By Christopher G. Fox, Ph.D.
As writers, we benefit from many resources helping us with grammar, clarity, and time-management. In addition to these practical guides, however, we also need beliefs that transform and inspire our writing. Becoming a kind writer can have an enormous impact on what we write and on whether it matters. Kindness puts how we engage with our readers at the center of our concern, whether we choose to inspire, convince, inform, entertain, or amaze. It deepens the feeling of connection we feel when writing, and which our reader, in turn, feels while reading.
With that in mind, here are five ways to become a kinder writer and channel the power of kindness.
- Put outcomes first
As you write, ask yourself intentionally about what you want your readers to know, feel, and do differently. Many times, we become preoccupied with what we want to say and how to put it into writing. We lose sight of the underlying purpose. By applying this principle, we clear our minds and move toward the pure essence of why we write. From there, the ways to say it flow naturally. Start with the outcomes of your piece as a whole, no matter what the genre. Then practice focusing your intentions on outcomes every time you sit down to work, reviewing the big picture outcomes and also the specifics of what you are writing at that moment. Finally, exercise this muscle to the point where you flex it with every sentence you compose and every word you choose, each small motion of your intention corresponding to an outcome for the reader.
- Respect your readers’ time and intelligence
People have busy, cluttered lives. As writers, we owe it to readers to say what we have to say as crisply as possible while staying true to our own voices and values. We needn’t resort to soundbites; we simply need to ask ourselves how we can best achieve the outcomes we strive for and the experience we want to offer. This principle applies as much to the expository fullness of a Proust or Tolstoy as to news journalism. When we follow it, we simply acknowledge that writing takes time to read, and that we ought to ask for that time respectfully. Similarly, it lets us refrain from force-feeding readers with every explanation, trusting they will understand if we offer the right details and concepts. Change the question from “do I want to say this?” to “do my readers need this?” As the total “content” in the world skyrockets, we do an enormous kindness by exercising restraint in how we use readers’ time and attention, with a stronger end result as well.
- Have compassion for yourself
We writers tend to beat ourselves up harshly. We worry frequently and intensely about writing well or writing enough. In our efforts to push ourselves forward, we risk knocking ourselves down. Time, words, and motivation all seem to conspire to evade us sometimes. We can let that frustration push itself to the forefront of our attention, or we can shift to self-compassion. On days like that, we serve ourselves much better acknowledging that our best intentions didn’t manifest themselves…today. If we take that last word to heart and embrace the next day by starting fresh, we clear the field for better outcomes. In our hearts, we believe we have something worth saying. Give that conviction its full power. The worst unkindness we can do is withholding our gift to readers by getting lost in our own negative self-reflection.
- Engage with the world around you
Throughout the writing process, we turn inwards for reflection and composition. But when we also turn outwards, to see the world around us and interact with people, we carry that connection with the natural and human world into our work. Writers have long found inspiration in walking: Wordsworth, Dickens, Thoreau, Orwell, to name a few. In addition to shaking loose our pre-conceptions, we can use our time in the world to interact with others, ask questions, see how people think and feel. We get better at putting outcomes first when we have more first-hand knowledge of people’s starting points. So go for a walk, or go out and start a short conversation with anyone: a store cashier, a homeless person, someone on a train or in a line. Just that small touchpoint with someone else’s point of view stimulates fresh perspectives and ideas that in turn spark creativity and increase your capacity for kindness to readers.
- Love thy reader
We cannot do any good for anyone without some level of love. Many traditions include a notion like this to describe our obligations to each other. By grounding our writing in kindness, we make it an act of love and devotion towards readers. Loving-kindness thinking expands our feelings of goodwill and warmth towards others. Bringing this kind of focus to our writing process connects us better to our own message and what we want to achieve for readers. Actively visualize the well-being of transformed readers–increased knowledge, more motivation, a new perspective, and greater awe. Holding that mental picture helps us dissolve stress over writing, increases empathy in how we write and observe the world, and, finally, improves our own physical and emotional health.
These five techniques combine to remarkable effect on how we write, how our writing affects the lives of readers, and even how writing affects our own lives. Each one of them helps return our focus to the “Big Why” of why we write. Whether you use them, adapt them, or invent your own kindness practices, you’ll find that intentional kindness increases the effect your writing has on the world in positive, and unexpected, ways.
Christopher G. Fox, Ph.D. created Kindness Communication® as an extension of his role as Managing Partner of Syncresis, a consultancy that has been developing digital solutions for patient engagement since 2007. In past roles, he worked as an educator, speaker, communicator, and strategist. Kindness Communication® stems from his commitment to helping people lead better informed and healthier lives. He believes strongly that the worlds we move in can be better places if we make kindness the core of how we operate. This principle applies to our friends and family. It applies to the workplace. And it applies to the world at large as we face world-changing potentials and threats because of the impacts we can have on global societies and ecologies.