Please welcome today’s guest Liz Lazzara, a freelance writer and editor living and working in Boston, Massachusetts. She also creates YouTube videos about freelance life and writing advice and is working on three large projects: a book series about living with depression to be published this fall; a memoir about her life with C-PTSD; and a novel about schizophrenia, a Greyhound bus, and the Pacific Coast.
Liz has been published both online and in print. Some of her bylines include All That Is Interesting, Bitch Media, Bust Magazine, The Huffington Post, Ravishly, Human Parts, The Coffeelicious, and Writer’s Digest.
Storytelling: An Exercise In Empathy
Some time ago, in early spring, I went to Brookline Booksmith, an independent bookstore in Boston, to hear Richard Russo read from his most recent book, Everybody’s Fool. I had read Empire Falls, his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, in my undergraduate years, remembered it fondly, and was looking forward to hearing more from an author I admired.
More importantly, though, I’ve always found that while listening to an author read from their book will inspire me to spend money on literature, the Q&A that follows never fails to provide me with at least one snippet of wisdom, the kind that follows me out of the venue and into my writing.
Feeling a tad rebellious, I jotted notes into a Google Document on my phone as Russo answered questions, mainly quotations. I came away with four:
- “All the good causes are lost causes” — seven words of encouragement for a writer who sometimes feels like establishing a career in words is beyond reach.
- “Many people who wound others have themselves been wounded” — a sentence that brought tears to my own wounded eyes (but that’s another story, one I’ll get to in a moment).
- “The writing of novels comes from a generosity of spirit” — something to swell the chest of a twenty-something with a novel-in-progress; “yes, indeed I am generous by gifting you with my words. Oh, please, no thanks are necessary.”
And the most resonant:
- “I think of storytelling as an exercise in empathy.”
The way I see it, all good writers have the ability to share feelings and experiences with others through imagining what it would be like to be somebody else. This manifests in three ways:
- By drawing inspiration from real people, whose stories we either imagine or “borrow,”
- Through the process of creating both characters and stories,
- By looking at yourself objectively, and having empathy for that separate self (seems strange, I know, but we’ll get there).
The first example is pretty simple. Writers — myself in particular — love to people watch. If I pass someone on the sidewalk, stand behind them in line for coffee, or accidentally brush against them on the subway, I’ll begin to examine them. I start to look at their clothes, their make-up, their faces and I’ll begin to imagine a backstory. [Read more…]