Reading time: About 4 minutes
Some writers think their worth is measured only by their writing. Not true. The most successful writers always learn how to care more…
I recently resigned from a job I’ve been doing for more than 20 years. I’m not retiring from this column or from any of my coaching — I enjoy work way too much. But I’m cutting back slightly to be able to give more attention to some issues at home.
When I resigned, I wrote a careful and polite letter explaining to the CEO why I needed to step down and thanking him for the 20-year opportunity. He said all the right things and I thought the matter was done.
But about a week later, I received a personal note from him. It recapped our work together and it expressed his thanks to me in gracious terms. I found the letter very moving and thought it represented why I’d been comfortable to work for that organization for so long.
I never objected to dealing with emergencies in the evenings or weekends for this group. And I worked on retainer, which meant I could be generous with my time. I had a job to do and I did it. Sure this boss and I had our arguments. I’ll never forget one screaming match after which we more or less hung up on each other. But we dealt with many challenging situations and we always had respect for the other’s very different role.
In short, I cared for this boss and his organization.
Caring is a skill and it’s one that too few people have. If you care about your work, your writing and your clients, you will always outperform more talented people who don’t care.
I don’t believe it’s possible to take a course on caring but you can train yourself to do it better, and it won’t cost you a cent. Here are 10 suggestions:
- Begin by caring for yourself. Just as they tell you on airplanes, put on your own oxygen mask first. This is not being selfish; it’s being realistic. If you don’t look after yourself you won’t be in any shape to care for others. Make sure you don’t spend your entire life working and make particular time for exercise and enough sleep.
- Channel all of your empathy. Use the power of your mind to try to put yourself into the shoes of others. For writers, it’s often helpful to imagine your “ideal reader” by name. Pick a real person, someone you know well, and pretend you’re writing directly to them. When you start editing, keep this person firmly in mind – in fact, try to be this person. Does your story make sense to them? Are your sentences and phrases entirely clear? What gaps are likely to appear in your reader’s mind’s eye? Remember, you’re not writing for yourself. You’re writing for someone else.
- Understand that caring is not just something you feel, it’s something you do. It’s all very well to try to imagine the feelings of others but putting great buckets of energy into that task is not useful enough. Instead, use your actions to show you care. If there’s a crisis, pitch in. If you have a particular skillset that might be useful, offer it. Even if doing something is vastly below your level — for example, licking stamps or filing receipts — do it if it will help make a difficult situation better.
- Make enough time for other people. All relationships need nurturing and attention in order to flourish. Do you think you don’t have time to care? Then become more selective about where you spend your time. Over the last several decades I’ve noticed that making time for the people (or projects) I don’t care about, usually just steals time from the people (or projects) I do care about.
- Care first. If you want to start caring, you need to begin doing it without the reward of positive feelings. Don’t expect joy right away. You’ll have to work for it. Typically, you may begin by feeling unhappy and discouraged, but taking action (point 3) will help you feel more positive about caring.
- Create your own support system. Caring takes work. And time. Set up whatever routines or reminders you might need to help you do that. I set daily, weekly, monthly and annual goals for myself — and I make sure some of these goals have caring baked right into them. I also maintain a to-do list in the software Zenkit To-Do. (It includes birthday reminders — another sign of caring.)
- Invest in your own autonomy. The more autonomy we have over our lives, the more engaged we tend to become and the easier it is for us to care about others. Some 25 years ago, I could see that autonomy was an especially important issue for me. I loathed the manipulation I saw in the journalistic world (mainly by bosses of their employees, because so many people wanted to be journalists). That’s why I quit my job and became self-employed. When you’re happier, it’s much easier to care about others.
- Stop talking about yourself so much. As mom used to say, we have two ears and one mouth because we should listen twice as much as we talk. When meeting with clients or friends, stop thinking about what you want to say next, and, instead listen. Rather than talking about yourself, listen. Rather than letting your mind wander to the groceries you need to buy for the week, listen. Watch faces. Paraphrase back to them what they’ve just said to you. If you can become an active listener, your friendships will become deeper, your work will improve and your earnings will also go up.
- Surround yourself with other people who care. Having a good role model makes it easier to do just about anything. If you hang around people who care you’ll be able to notice — and eventually to emulate — the many small actions they take every day to help support others. We often forget how much other people’s positivity — or negativity — affects us. If you want to remake yourself as someone who cares, seek out colleagues who are known to be compassionate and giving. And stay away from the malcontents who like nothing better than complaining.
- Give care because you really do care. I’ve put this step last because it will take some time and effort to get you here. But your ultimate goal is to have your actions reflect your authentic feelings. You want the people in your life (including clients!) to know that you care about them. If this seems impossible right now, continue working with steps 1 to 9 until this last one becomes more feasible.
Learn how to care more, and care better. It will improve your working life. And your personal life, too.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
Have you ever been paralyzed by fear of writing? Don’t let this nasty psychological barrier make your life miserable or cost you missed income. I’ve developed an affordable 18-video series that will help you banish the fear. Plus you’ll get membership to an online group of others facing the same challenge. Have a look at it here.
My video podcast last week addressed how to break the cycle of procrastination. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
How do you incorporate caring into your writing work? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by April 30/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!