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,
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.
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 the author felt, but each of those sentences is one of the following:
- An assumption
- An idea
- An opinion
Oh, There’s a Thought
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.
- I think no one else experiences writers block, and I feel stymied in my dreams of being a writer.
- I think my writing is becoming repetitive, and that worries me as I know I’ll lose readers if I become boring.
- 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 categories:
- Bad (guilty, envious, jealous, etc.)
- Scared (sorry there isn’t a rhyming one for this)
When you write from both perspectives, 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.
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 helps us see which needs changing – the thinking or the feelings, to improve their lives.
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 ___.
When you process from both perspectives, 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?
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.
It might help if you think of them as the a-b-c’s and 1-2-3’s of writing; that’s the:
Let me know if writing about the separate, but equally important thoughts and feelings doesn’t expand your opportunity to write better. Thanks.