The Hidden Benefits of Being a Writer

by Autumn M. Birt

Ask any author the reason they write, and you’ll likely hear about overflowing ideas, addiction to that ‘aha’ moment of discovery as a plot unfurls, or a desire to create for someone else the love of discovering new worlds and people that they found hidden between pages.

But have you ever heard anyone mention they understand people better because they are a writer?

death of fictional characterOr a reader – of fiction specifically. I’m not making this up. There have been scientific studies, as outlined in this great article Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Read Fiction, that show readers are more aware of others’ emotions. Though it was only readers in the study, I bet that writers would show even stronger connections to heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex. Whether we’d show more empathy is difficult to predict. We can do some very cruel things to our characters… but we feel their pain!

And I really agree with this. Writing emotions and working on ‘showing’ and not ‘telling’ really taught me to analyze body language and facial expressions (how to make movie watching ‘research’). Which resulted in learning to read emotions better in friends and family.

And that led to the realization that not everyone reacts the same way to an event. In fact, no two people – or characters – should exhibit exactly the same emotional impact. Responses are really a part of who a character or person is: some cry, some throw punches. That lesson helped improve the depth of my writing.

Discovering greater emotional variation and understanding is definitely one of the hidden reasons I enjoy being a writer. But it isn’t why I write. Nor any of the reasons I listed above, though all are accurate to some degree. I realized a while ago that I write because I like who I am better when I’m writing.

How does your emotional state play into your writing?

emotioncapture-300x201I know I’ve had some really sucky days where I end up thinking, “boy, this is going into my next novel.” Bad and tense days make great fodder for dark writing. And I leave the page at the end of it feeling purged of a lot of ick.

More than that, my mind is sharper when I’m working on a novel and developing a plot compared to when I’m surfing through life, just trying to juggle the day to day crap. I’ve joked that when I’m not writing my mind is like a little 4 cylinder engine where the valves are out of tune compared to when I am writing and I’ve got at least a well-tuned V8 humming away. Yeah, I like writing.

Can you get that out of reading? I think so, especially if you are reading a thriller or mystery and trying to unravel clues. Reading engages different areas of our brain compared to watching television. Do you ever think about what an actor is smelling on screen? Do you think about the crispness of a cold morning on exposed skin just because you see two people camping in the fall on a TV show or movie? Probably not. Not to mention when you read, you need to make up the scenery based on small details in the writing. And you can’t judge emotions based on the musical score… unless a newly emerging trend to incorporate music into ebooks takes hold (to which I’ll be muting my speakers…).

670px-Get-Over-the-Death-of-a-Fictional-Character-Step-1I’m very happy that people are still reading despite the multitude of other ways to immerse themselves. Not just because it means someone might buy my book, but because it means the world is potentially filled with slightly happier, emotionally more responsive people, who may even be more clever than average! I wonder if I can include questions on most recently read book the next time I have to hire someone? Hmmm…

So writers and readers make better friends. Even if they ignore you occasionally for the imaginary people in their heads or their favorite book. But hey, they’ll notice when you are upset!

Autumn tries not to take too much delight in the perils she throws at the characters in her novels, knowing if the situation were reversed she wouldn’t do half as well as they manage! Learn more about her epic fantasy series the Rise of the Fifth Order and check out her newest release, the beginning of a military dark fantasy series Friends of my Enemy, at AutumnWriting.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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