Don’t you just love it when people you know and respect rave about a book? Just recently, two of my writing buddies were doing exactly that about a book called Middlesex. One of them listened to it on tape in her car. What impressed her most? It was how gentle and loving the author was with his characters. He treated them with such compassion.
A reviewer of This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz’s new collection of stories, said something very much the same about Junot’s writing. The reviewer talked about the humanity and heart that our boy Junot shows in his new book. I’m not surprised, because in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,
Junot also shows enormous empathy for his characters. And since they were treated kindly by their author, they came to life for the reader: they were full-souled and real.
I remember Junot’s words to me at a reading. When I told him I was a writer, he looked at me softly and said, “Be kind to yourself.” What a sweetheart!
Think of great writers like Shakespeare, Dickens, and Tolstoy — among the qualities they share are understanding, compassion, and lack of judgment. They shape their characters with a deep knowledge of the human heart — and I believe their characters respond by sharing their secrets. Let’s do the same when we write: let’s be tender and loving to these creations of ours. Who knows what gifts they may give us?
I took a coaching course last year, and the main point up front was “It has to be only about the person being coached.” And, as you proceed through the course, one of the many things you learn is you have to be compassionate toward the person being coached. Then, as you reach the end, you realize you first have to take care of your own needs in order to BE ABLE TO let it be all about the other person! That has proven to be the toughest part. I never thought about the applicability to writing, though I see what you mean about the characters in Oscar Wao.