Stories Build Empathy
Books have always been a fast-track ticket to empathy for me.
There are so many personal experiences I’ll never have, but reading lets me glimpse others’ lives and experiences.
Stories show me reflections of others’ feelings and perceptions and make me more empathetic.
So it should come as no surprise that writing has become another avenue to expand my empathy.
Life as a Teacher and a Parent
When I was a young teacher, I loved my students. I engaged them during read-alouds and history lessons. I encouraged them to try the hard math problems. I followed all the best practices and worked my butt off to make sure they learned something. I was a “good” teacher.
But something changed when my daughter was born.
I didn’t spend hours on lesson plans anymore or pull small groups for individualized instruction as frequently. I wasn’t following all of the best practices that I believed were important for my students’ success because I was trying to be the best mom I could be. And there were only so many hours in a day.
Where before my focus had been on the children in my classroom, now my child became my first priority.
While I wasn’t as “good” of a teacher anymore, I did become a more empathetic teacher.
The first time I got called to the daycare director’s office because my child had bitten another toddler, I understood that parents feel embarrassed and sad and worried when their children misbehave.
It was no longer a big deal when a student couldn’t get their form signed or a parent forgot to send in snacks. A person can only juggle so much in a day.
I felt a parent’s pain when she wanted her child to be included in the other girls’ games. I discovered that homework wasn’t as important as I’d previously thought. And I realized even the most annoying parents were only trying to do their best for their children.
Life as an Editor
In the same way that raising a child made me a more empathetic teacher, writing my own books has made me a more empathetic editor.
I’ve invested a lot of time in becoming a “good” editor.
I read a lot for pleasure but also for professional development.
I study the way novels and movies are put together, which enables me to crack my clients’ stories apart and then put them back together.
I know so many grammar rules that I’m the go-to for friends and family to ask: “Is this right?”
I take my responsibility as an editor seriously, and I’ve always been immensely grateful for the trust my clients have placed in me. A person’s writing is an extension of their hearts, and I know that I need to tread lightly.
Sometimes it’s difficult to balance constructive feedback with encouragement. My clients pay me to be honest with them. They are hardworking authors who want to learn more about their craft. Rather than squash them, I try to encourage them, even when they’ve completely missed the mark. For the most part, I get it right. But, sometimes, feedback still hurts.
Becoming a Writer
Recently, I experienced what it’s like to be on the client’s end of this equation. I’ve workshopped pieces of writing with peers before, but this was the first time I paid a professional to give me honest, constructive feedback that would make my manuscripts better.
The entire process made me nervous, which surprised me. I expected nerves to show up when she returned her edits, but before we had even started working together? The range of feelings I experienced surprised me.
When I answered her initial questions about my manuscript, I worried if I was giving the “right” answers.
When it was time to send her my manuscript, I was literally shaking. Would she like it? Would she think it was garbage? Was she wondering who I thought I was to write this book?
When I received her feedback, I cried. She had so many encouraging and helpful things to say that I felt overwhelmed with gratitude at being seen. And I also felt overwhelmed with how to start making the suggested revisions.
What I know now is that every part of the editing process is fraught with fear. All feedback pricks at the tender spot inside. That spot lies to you. It says, “I’m not good enough to write a book.”
Knowing a kind, compassionate editor is on my side, is thinking about the best way I can connect with my readers, and is willing to help me allows me to tell that voice to shut up.
As I revise my books, I know there are days that I’m more focused on my own writing than my clients’ manuscripts. Writing isn’t necessarily making me a better editor, but it is making me a more empathetic one.
Being an Empathetic Editor
I’m truly grateful for the reminder that even though I’ve worked on hundreds of manuscripts, my clients have often only worked on a few, maybe even just one. So much is unfamiliar and daunting.
I want to be the kind, compassionate editor on the other side, reminding them: “I’ve got you. You can do this. I’m here to help.”
Nicole C. Ayers (WNBA-Charlotte) has been playing with words as long as she can remember. While she’s held many jobs in her life, including stints as a server, camp counselor, telemarketer, print shop lackey, bartender, and teacher, editing at Ayers Edits is her favorite because she combines her love of reading with the fun of wordplay. She can now add writer to this list. Her essay, “Pink Hats,” placed in the Women’s National Book Association Annual Writing Contest in 2017, and she’ll be publishing three companion books: Love Notes to My Body; Love Letters to My Body; and Messages of Love: A Guided Journal in the fall of 2019.
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