Distinguish Thoughts and Feelings: Double the Descriptions and Dialogues

By: Marilyn L. Davis

Which Is It? A Thought or a Feeling?


“In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels”  Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

woamn think heart twitter. Distinguish Thoughts and Feelings: Double the Descriptions and Dialogues marilyn l davis two drops of ink


Engaging a reader takes work, and many writers struggle with descriptive passages to do just that. Trying to communicate through our stories, we labor over words:

  • Which verb is powerful?
  • Is that an overused word?
  • Did I write an active or passive sentence?
  • Should this be one sentence, or is it too long?

Beyond all of the above, we know that when we write vibrant passages, we are more likely to retain our readers.

One simple way to add another descriptive element to your writing is to distinguish thoughts from feelings. These distinctions add authenticity to dialogue as well. Click To Tweet 

But I Used Feel in the Sentence!

Most writers assume that if they have “feel” in their sentence, that they are talking about feelings. That is sometimes incorrect. For example:

  • I feel like no one else experiences writers’ block.
  • I feel as though my writing is getting repetitive.
  • I feel as if I’m not improving as a writer.

If you look at the sentences, you have a vague notion of how I felt, but each of those sentences is one of the following:

  1. An assumption
  2. An idea
  3. An opinion

Oh, They’re Thoughts

Assumptions, ideas, and opinions are thoughts, not feelings. When I distinguish the thoughts and add the feelings, I’ve given a reader more understanding and a better chance of engaging them.

  1. I think no one else experiences writers’ block, and I feel stymied in my dreams of being a writer.
  2. I think my writing is becoming repetitive, and that worries me as I know I’ll lose readers if I become boring.
  3. I don’t think I’m improving as a writer, and I feel frustrated with myself for not taking the time to improve my writing.

Now there is a combination of thoughts and feelings.

Just Give Me the Basic Feelings

Although there are thousands of words to describe our feelings, the simplest place to start is with the five easiest categories:

  1. Mad
  2. Sad
  3. Glad
  4. Bad (guilty, envious, jealous, etc.)
  5. Scared (sorry there isn’t a rhyming one for this)

feelings are thoughts are woamn think heart twitter. Distinguish Thoughts and Feelings: Double the Descriptions and Dialogues marilyn l davis two drops of ink

When you write from both perspectives, the thoughts, and feelings, your writing can reach the intellectual as well as the emotional reader.

Writing both thoughts and feelings helps you differentiate them and lets readers understand which you are writing about in any situation.

When you distinguish between thinking and feeling, you improve communication.

These differences will help you more accurately convey your intent or the intent of the character. Plus, it gives you additional opportunities to flesh our characters in fiction writing.

When we know what someone thinks and feels, we start building that mental image of who they are, what they look like, their attitudes, how they feel about themselves or others in the passage, and their character. Click To Tweet

Engaging Them From Their Perspective

In working with the addicted population, I have found that being clear in thoughts and feelings helps clients and me focus on whether we’re talking about feelings or thoughts. It’s distinguishing these aspects that help us see which needs changing, either our feelings or our thoughts. 

Sometimes it’s what or how a person thinks, and other times, it is what or how they feel about something that needs further exploration.

For instance, many men have difficulties expressing their feelings, so helping them distinguish between thoughts and feelings allows them to get in touch with the problem feelings. Sometimes, the reverse is true for women; we can talk about our feelings but do not look at our thoughts. Granted, this is not true of all men, or all women, however, these gender differences are common in addiction treatment.

The next time you’re stuck in writing a descriptive passage, think about it from these two perspectives:

  • When ____ happened, I felt ___.
  • When ____ happened, I thought ___.

If you process from the perspectives of feelings and thoughts, it opens up more opportunities to capture and retain a reader, and isn't that what we're all trying to do with our writing? Click To Tweet


For one week, think about whether you’re writing about your thoughts or your feelings and then learn to make these distinctions for your reader.

When you’re reading other posts or books, see how many times a writer could have expanded on the information, if they had taken the time to recognize and tell us what they or a character thought or felt.

woamn think heart twitter. Distinguish Thoughts and Feelings: Double the Descriptions and Dialogues marilyn l davis two drops of ink

It might help if you think of them as the a-b-c’s and 1-2-3’s of writing; that’s the:

  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs
  • Convictions


  1. Emotions
  2. Mood
  3. Sentiment

Let me know if writing about the separate, but equally important. thoughts and feelings don’t expand your opportunity to write better.


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  1. What a great piece . In fact at writing Ihave only one brain, which is the feeling and I always try to write words with maxima and strongl feelings and a hidden and remote idea.

    • Good morning, Dr. Gani. Thank you for the kind words, but more importantly, thank you for that insightful comment. You have described your process well and after reading your poetry here, it certainly works. You do use strong emotional words and convey the ideas through them. We could all take a lesson from you.

      I sincerely hope that you will become a regular contributor here at Two Drops of Ink. I look forward to reading more of your narrative poetry.

  2. Thoughtful words here. As I edit my first draft I will look for places where I have not distinguished my thoughts from my feelings. As my writing develops I hope I can distinguish my thoughts from my feelings in the first draft.

    • Hi, Debbie. Thank you for your comment. It does get easier with practice to distinguish the feelings from the thoughts, and I hope you notice that you can add more nuances when you separate them. Let me know about that next draft if you will.

  3. This is helpful for what I am working on. I need to mindful of what I’m feeling and thinking to be clear in the separation of the two. Thanks again, Marilyn

    • Hi, John, distinguishing the two does give the writer more opportunities to enrich their writing. It’s another of those recovery lessons that translates to better writing, also. Since we need to be mindful of both in our recovery, I’ve made the effort to spread this message of separation of the two. It’s difficult for me to read sometimes when someone says, I felt like and then off they go on an idea. The other benefit it that there are only five types of feelings: mad, sad, glad, bad (jealous, guilty, etc.) and scared. Most feelings are going to fit to some degree in these, yet there are must as many if not more types of thinking from attitudes to beliefs, etc. and the writing just becomes more informative.

  4. Good afternoon, Scott; thank you. This means a lot coming from you. I appreciate the kind words.

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