Writing, Creating with Compassion

Writing, Creating with Compassion

Being a writer in today’s contentious climate can change your vision. It can make you either hop on the current bandwagon of anger and hurt, or make you want to think only happy thoughts, create a new world as you go, or simply focus on topics that have escaped contention. We need both.

WHAT TOPIC TO CHOOSE

I follow the blogs of other writers. I tend to be more serious while some fellow writers can knock out a light-hearted piece over and over. We need those. It’s like watching a great comedy where laughter is a gift. Because reading a newspaper every day and listening to news can really drag you down. Writers must create with variety. But also with compassion.

INSIGHT FROM DONALD MAASS 

I follow a blog for writers that is blessed occasionally with a piece by New York literary agent and author for writers, Donald Maass. He offers incredible insights into the writing process, but he also lives in the real world and in answer to another writer’s post recently wrote: (Note: I have altered his response slightly)

Stories do not require a consensus.They do not legislate.Their purpose is to persuade. But persuade us of what? And how? 

In a novel, (or screen play, script that becomes a film) to prove others wrong, it is first necessary to acknowledge that they may be right. So…

  • create characters who represent divergent ways of thinking and doing–actually opposing ideas are represented by opposing characters. (Brilliant and basic. Every television drama presents tension–because people with differing points of view are interacting.)
  • But to be strong, each character must face their weaknesses. (As writers,  our characters face what we are afraid of). As readers and viewers we will not be moved unless we see humanity first. The character must fail. And then to persuade us to change, the character must change because of the failure. They see the light, in other words. 

Maass states: 

  • Writers must create antagonists whose case is excellent and heroes who are flawed. 
  • But in order to truly be a hero, those characters must learn and then change. 
  • Thus the power of storytelling to change us (the reader) lies in the courage writers summon to see things as others do. It depends on creating heroes who are flawed and must learn. Most of all, it requires that authors humble themselves, writing not out of resentment but out of twined compassion and conviction about what is right.

Maass asks: What is the bell you will ring in your writing today? What clear and simple truth does it sound? Words are strong when you know their purpose. Stories speak loudest when the storyteller first listens.

I AM LISTENING

Writers speak through their characters. They use their so-flawed-ideas and their closer-to-perfect ideas. Both are on the page. My novel-in-progress. presents a crack in the foundation of a marriage: one of the partners decides to forget an initial pledge to be compassionate in life and help others. He is turning away. She is not. But that doesn’t make her an angel. Maybe she is overboard and thus wrong in her belief that she can change people through empathy and compassion. It helps me day to day to grapple with my own fears and insecurities while getting into the skin of my characters.

FINDING COMPASSION THROUGH SELF-TENSION 

This week Erin Aubry Kaplan published a piece in the LA TIMES, entitled A New Reckoning for Whiteness. And I found a connection between the hero of any novel or story wrestling with his or her flawed-ness, before becoming a hero-again. And myself wrestling with my own lived life. Kaplan writes that our current president’s “both-sides” problem just might make some citizens grapple with a crucial question: What does it mean to be white? Or, what does it really mean?

For me, it was a hard piece to read. But necessary–that’s why I am sharing it. Kaplan asks: “It (the question) requires individual answers to intimate questions: How do I feel as a white person? What advantages do I take for granted based on my skin color? How do I see nonwhites? Or do I see them at all?”

Kaplan writes that if white people struggle with these questions, she has struggled with similar ones all her life: “What sort of black person are you? Middle class or ghetto, articulate or down-home, educated or irrational, bourgeoisie or radical?”

She writes that currently, “no one can indulge in the illusion of togetherness. He’s (POTUS 45) disrupting a surface that needs to be disrupted, for good.”

She’s saying that in order to write the best American story, each of us “characters” has to look and acknowledge our flaws before we can go back to believing in the “prefect union” we so desire and thus become the heroes of our story. Please read the entire article to see the whole of her argument. It might be disruptive — but then we are becoming used to that EVERY SINGLE DAY.

In conclusion, I have been examining my whiteness. Yes, I benefited from living in a middle class Chicago neighborhood and attending private schools. I knew few black people growing up. My high school was integrated, but barely. Did I make an attempt to befriend my fellow black students? No. Maybe I felt myself absolved by the literature I was reading and getting A’s analyzing. CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY. Big deal. In college, Martin Luther King was assassinated and the black students printed a piece in our newspaper with a photo of them gathered. They called themselves the “worms in our apple.” By the time I was teaching high school in an integrated school that pulled from neighborhoods of poor whites, middleclass whites and poor blacks–I was more awake than ever. And I fought to stay awake. But even now, I wouldn’t give myself an A plus, that’s for sure.

SO WHAT’S THE END OF THE STORY?

I want to be open to the world and all its colors and brightness, all it’s variety and hopes, dreams and pains. I want that to flow through my fiction and encourage you to comment on this post. We are family–all of us. Time to work on our flaws and become the best people we can be. Compassion, anyone?

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18 thoughts on “Writing, Creating with Compassion

  1. I write different pieces depending on how I am feeling…if I need a little uplifting, then I write funny…well at least I think it’s funny…and I also write about real life and that is not always funny. I think I just need to get out what is in my head and heart and that is what I do.

    • Yes. I also find something is stirring in my mind and I just have to sit down and write about it, feel how it comes out. Thanks so much for your comment, Beth

    • Yes, they do. And as Maass says, that’s okay if we have a message. I think working through our faults, which I hope to do in my novel, can help us walk a better path in our real and true lives.

  2. My main writing is song writing. For me the music usually comes first, and that really comes from emotion. As I hum a melody and anticipate chord changes, lyrics will just sneak into my conscious and I start singing them. Everyone is different. Elton John sits with Bernie Taupin’s lyrics and creates their songs. The creative process is different for all of us, but when it connects, it is a marvel and most rewarding. And I hope the creative people in our world help all of us to work through our flaws and find compassion for everyone in this most wonderful human race…….

    • Yes, we have much to give on so many levels if we would all just GET ALONG. Thanks, my Brother.

      PS I remember long ago saying I would write lyrics for a song. Something I guess I just could not do!

  3. Thanks for sharing this topic. I’ve never really thought about my blog writing in that way. I do like novels that really develop the characters so you get to feel what they feel.

    Good luck writing your novel. Kudos to you for such a major initiative.

  4. Excellent topic Beth and great advice about writing! We live in the wilds of the American West. My drive into town (of 800) covers mostly traditional Native American territory. I went to hear a talk recently by a Native American. One thing he said really struck me: The most you can probably do is to appreciate those who came before you on this land. Do you feel their spirit? Do you understand their life and their struggles? I have spent a number of years now doing just that.

    • I cherish your response. It lifts me up, which I need more and more as our country wanders in the maze of Trump. Blessings, Beth

  5. I’ve never struggled as hard as I do now to balance self-care with other-care because the state of things at least makes me feel constantly on the defensive. But every once in while, I make myself look past the discomfort I feel in these times to those who don’t have the luxury of brooding while dealing with the business of surviving. The hurricane and the state of life for immigrants to name only some who have it far worse than I do.

    Self-care can turn selfish so quickly, you just HAVE to keep the anxiety at bay and realize that your own resilient humanity is essential to living in full.

    • Beautifully said. Where would those who need help be if we were all paralyzed by what is happening. Thanks, Susan. Keeping your words in mind. Beth

  6. Beth, Compassion is huge, as is listening and learning. I also strive to take what I like and leave the rest, and for me it means listening to enough of the news to inform and leaving the rest and praying – saying the serenity prayer and being grateful for what I do have and can do.
    You have a beautiful dream, keep on writing that novel….I keep on thinking about David, Sara and Ella….

    • Wow, Carol, wish I could hug you. Truly. And yes, prayer is important and remaining vigilant. I am learning to hold back anger, but also to allow myself to challenge people.

  7. Excellent post. I write non-fiction, but understand the need to be real and vulnerable with my readers. As far as “whiteness” goes, I was raised in a very poor farm family. We worked along side of the Mexican Immigrants and were also treated like them. It is difficult for some, if not most, people to put themselves in others shoes. We try….I really believe we do, but if there is a situation that has just NEVER been in our lives, it can be difficult to relate.

    I am white. I know that makes it easier on me here in America. And it shouldn’t be that way.

    • Loretta, thanks so much for your honest reply. I agree with everything you wrote and admire the pathway that you have taken. I do think that most times when we meet, work with or know people that would otherwise be strangers to us, is that our compassion and empathy increases. If we were raised in some golden tower with no exposure, what basic platform can we work from?

  8. Thank you for this article. I am a newbie to writing and blogging. Before this I hadn’t written anything since school. I wanted to write about the things I had learned as an adult. The world was not as I was told it was when I was young and I have tried to unlearn everything and start again, with my mind and body, the way I look at society and the world.

    My writing, so far, has helped me more than I think it has helped others, its been a therapy. I have become more confident in myself. I have learned, that instead of being a perfectionist, to accept all my flaws and be kind to myself.

    I hear you when you talk about needing lightness. When I see things happening around the world, the injustice and lies, I feel almost a physical weight. My family and friends have told me that I am a lot more serious lately. It feels like a loss of innocence. I was happier when I wasn’t ‘woke’

    I think that lightness is the direction I should be heading for in my writing. It feels needed.

    • Christine,
      we certainly think alike. Lightness is needed–at the end of the day. A poem, a good book, hugging your family. We cannot live with the dark 24/7 or we will give up and the lies will win. I’m here for you.
      Thanks so much for reading and responding. Beth Havey

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