Confessions of a writer.
It takes a lot to commit to yourself to be a writer. And, when you do so, as a writer you expect that your clients should understand what it takes for you to research, research, and research, then write and then edit to complete an aesthetic presentation of thoughts into an article or a story. After all this, you proudly place the first draft before your customer, only to receive iterations which leads to more research and edits! Not fair, but that is how a writer’s job functions.
With uninterrupted back and forth, you probably would reach a point when you are almost ready to bang against the desk and yell at your client to tell him that it won’t work. But, you won’t do that since the ‘customer is king’. You moderate your emotions. Accept all revisions with a smile. Then, go back to the keyboard to complete the final draft. At this stage, you are almost famished in spirit.
I have also been a victim of this boring cycle of back and forth, but I discovered a better way to deal with it. I call it ‘empathetic writing’. I drew the inspiration to apply empathetic writing after I heard Veronica Roth, the young author of the famous Divergent series of novels, in an interview. While answering ‘why should anyone choose to become a writer?’, she reasoned out that it is not the final output that excites her as much as the process itself. It seemed that she loves the process of writing and editing and writing and editing — again and again.
While it seems easy for expert writers to adhere to this kind of mindset, it is very difficult for ghostwriters, like me, to stick to this regime with discipline.
James Clear, a niche writer throws some light on how to handle this. He believes that a writer who is on the path to mastery needs to embrace ‘boredom’ arising out of repetition.
Mastery is achieved through consistent repetition, deliberate practice and more practice.
While being engrossed in repetition, one can always hit a block which arises out of boredom. But, in Clear’s words, experts who have reached great heights in their respective fields have been able to deal with boredom, embrace it and get over it. In fact, fall in love with it!
However, it is simple to say ‘embrace boredom’, but the challenge lies to put it in practice.
Connecting the dots.
After a long hibernation as a reader, I picked up Satya Nadella’s book titled ‘Hit Refresh’. In the book’s first chapter, he describes how he set himself on a mission to refresh the company’s culture and all that only began with ‘empathy’.
In the first interview that got him a job as an engineer into Microsoft, he was asked to share his response to a scenario where he finds a baby lying on the road. His response was to “call 911”. Empathetic people would respond to the situation differently — hold the baby in the arms and comfort her, and then look for a solution. But, here he faced a tongue in the cheek situation. The interviewer was obviously not very impressed with his answer. He was shown the way out because he lacked empathy.
Difficult situations demand empathy.
What has the story got to do with ‘Empathetic Writing’?
I narrated this story because as a writer, I sometimes lack empathy. When empathy disappears in the middle of the writing process, I resort to an anxious and reactive mode of speech, adding frustration and stress to my writing. At that moment, writing does not keep me happy any longer.
These stories explain more about empathy and writing, together. Empathy is to coalesce in spirit and soul with the person whom you are working with. Writing is the process that leads you to manifest into a writer; who obviously loves the process more than the story.
So here we come to empathetic writing.
I mostly ghostwrite. Most of them who I write for are business professionals or entrepreneurs. Empathetic writing works best for ghostwriters, as one needs to literally wear somebody else’s skin, think like him and speak like him.
Empathetic writing is the process of experiencing the vision of the ideator, and his urge to communicate his ideas to the rest of the world. As a ghostwriter, you are offering some noble help. So let’s begin to empathize before we write.
Process of Empathetic Writing
All through my writing career until now, I have written about a variety of topics that ranges from organic farming to AI chatbots, and to education.
Whom should you empathize with?
The person whom you are writing for is in a situation of deficiency. He is handicapped with the lack of ability to craft a written story, or of time, or both. So, you become the driver and start steering his story in your words. In this process, if you step out of writing to actually assess how that person goes through to accomplish his mission, you would probably understand his pain and pleasure behind his vision.
Step #1: Identify the goal and target audience
While writing on any of those topics, I used to vex my client to share their objective of writing that article (goal or CTA) and with whom they intend to communicate this idea (target audience).
Step #2: Research about the idea and the person
Once, I have these details, I research about their activities in the industry, industry updates, and company updates to start thinking like my client. By now, I have the story and tone ready. While researching I think a lot like the client and here apply the emotion of empathy.
Step #3: Setting the tone using his vocabulary
Then, I gather the most common vocabulary used by the person whom I’m writing for. This actually adds muscle to the article. Someone who heads a retail chain of stores would speak differently from someone who runs a casino or works on AI bots or is solving healthcare issues. Bringing these three pieces together I build the story for the representative.
Step #4: Outline the Story
With all the information that I have, I create a screenplay which is also referred to as the outline of an article. With the outline, I fill facts, analogies, and opinions that I gathered in Step #2, during my research.
Step #5: Empathetic writing
This is where I spend time on presenting the ideas like my client, as closely as possible. There is always room for disagreement. After completion of the first draft, I read it once again to measure the tone. It should not sound like Nischala’s words (my words). It should like ‘my client is speaking to me’.
Once, I am satisfied with this, then the work of a writer begins. Edit, edit, and edit. This is where I need to hold myself tight until I generate a draft that satisfies my client completely. Over time, I have been able to achieve an edit of one iteration. Of course, this means spending more time in research.