Conscious Writing: What Matters Most

What matters most to your protagonist?

In much of fiction, writers answer this question with some obvious answers: family, wealth, health. They might go for an intangible, such as honor, loyalty, or freedom.

Take some time to dig a little deeper than surface emotions to discover what is truly vital for your hero.

Your character might give an unexpected or even inconvenient response, depending on how you’ve planned your story, but listen to what she says anyway and give it some consideration.

Conscious Writing: Anger

We don’t like to talk about it in the real world, but in fiction, anger is a delicious emotion, creating conflict, triggering regret, and moving the plot.

You might already have an idea about what makes your characters angry, but how do they feel about it and what do they do with it?

Anger can be stimulating and energizing. Your hero might say something they normally wouldn’t or reveal a truth they’ve kept from someone.

Anger might make your character feel powerful, righteous, or in control. But when the anger passes, he might feel guilt or regret, or even feel physically fatigued.

In contrast, what happens when your character holds in their anger? We all do this, for social ease if no other reason. Generally, the more anger we withhold, the stronger it gets, but anger can also be expressed in other ways. Someone who withdraws or engages in self-harm might be hiding their anger in an unhealthy way.

In the real world, we want to accept and vent our anger in healthy ways that don’t hurt other people, but in fiction, the messier the better!

Is expressed or withheld anger bringing your hero towards a crisis point?

Conscious Writing: Truth and Consequences

Reflecting back on previous exercises in which we talked about our characters’ relationship with the truth, take some time today to consider why your protagonist or other characters lie, shade, obfuscate, or otherwise withhold information.

Consider that they might not be afraid of the truth itself, but merely don’t want to deal with the repercussions when the truth comes out.

Is your character afraid of telling his family about his divorce or is he just avoiding the lecture he knows is coming?

Is your protagonist shading the truth to be kind, or because telling the truth would lessen her power over someone?

Look for places in your story where your character isn’t truthful – either with him or herself or with others – and keep asking why until you dig below the easy surface answers.

Conscious Writing: Honor Who You Are

My intention in pursuing these exercises in Conscious Writing is to create an emotional atmosphere where I’m in tune with my creativity without regard to outside considerations (finance, negativity), so that I can be most fully myself when I write. By knowing and honoring myself, I can engage in creative work without being sidetracked by fluctuating moods and energies.

How do you engage with external events or energy and how they influence your creativity?


When others don’t respond to my work, I feel ______________.

When I receive a rejection, I feel _______________________.

If __________________ happens, I’m pushed out of my creative mental space.

When I see others achieving the success and validation I would like, I feel _____________.


There aren’t any wrong answers, and this exercise isn’t meant to be shaming. If you want, take a few minutes to ask and answer the questions, and see what you learn. Recognizing these external energies is the first step to avoiding their influence over our creativity.

Conscious Writing: Your Character’s Physicality

It’s standard for writers to describe their characters’ physical bodies – their facial features, body type and shape, coloring, and other features. And we spend a lot of time in their heads, delineating their various emotional states.

But how do your characters feel in their bodies? In other words, what aches or pains do they have? How do their bodies react to their emotional states? How do they experience the physical self?

Ask your character some of the questions below. If you are working on a specific scene right now, make these queries in context of what’s happening in your novel.

Right now my character feels _______________.

His head feels ______________________.

Her shoulders feel ______________________.

He is very aware of his ________________________, because it feels ________________.

Conscious Writing: Your Dream Vacation

For many writers, setting aside dedicated creative time can be difficult. Most of us work full-time jobs, even when that job is writing. Many of us have families that need our attention. And everyone has responsibility at home: cooking, cleaning, laundry, and paying the bills.

Still, it’s important that we have that time to ourselves. It often comes in dribs and drabs, a half hour here and there, a lunch hour, or in the evenings after the rest of the household is settled.

Today, consider treating yourself to a creative vacation. Imagine that money and time are available. Where would you go and what would you do? Would you rent a hotel room? A cabin in the mountains or the beach? Do you need a week to read and recharge or time to dedicate to crafting an outline or editing a first draft? You pick!

If you can, put a plan in place to make this happen. However, don’t worry if you don’t have the time or resources for a long creative retreat. It’s ok to start small! Plan a shorter activity that lasts two to four hours. When and if you can, expand on your baseline “vacation” and add time, pick a new location, or change up how you use the time.

  • You get to pick the destination
  • You choose how to spend your time
  • Your time must be spent only on what you want or what will make you feel good and fulfilled


Conscious Writing: Bad Math

We each have only a finite amount of time alive on the planet. Hope that didn’t spoiler the ending for anyone.

How we spend our time propels our happiness while we’re here and sets our legacy for after we’re gone. The question, of course, is whether we are spending our time in a way that is personally fulfilling and leaves us at the end with the feeling that we were successful.

Here’s an exercise that may put this in perspective.

Multiply the years of your life expectancy by 365. It doesn’t matter what number you use, but choose something between average and what you hope to get.

Then multiply your age by 365. Subtract this number from the first.

The result is an approximate number of days you have to work with. Whatever number you reached, it probably doesn’t seem like a lot.

Take some time today to ask yourself some questions. What is most important to you? How do you want to spend these next five, ten, or fifteen thousand days? What can you accomplish in that time that would be most fulfilling for you?


Conscious Writing: Think Big

Today, take some time to consider important questions about your creativity and your writing. Don’t waste time asking negative or shaming questions like “Are you ever going to finish your novel?” or “Do you really need to do more research?”

You may or may not have an idea of what kind of questions to ask. The answers are unique to you, so you can’t copy anyone else’s and your answers won’t be wrong.

Some big questions I’m going to consider:

  • Why do I write?
  • What do I get out of it?
  • What do I hope to give?
  • What knowledge can I share?
  • Is recognition important to me or can I be satisfied with the journey?


What are the most important questions you need to ask to make the most of your creative journey?

Conscious Writing: Secrets and Truth

Building on yesterday’s exercise, take some more time to consider your protagonist’s relationship with secrets and truth.

How does your protagonist react when someone gets close to a secret they’re keeping? Does he hide or get defensive? Does she go on the attack or make jokes about the topic?

The secret doesn’t have to be sinful or humiliating. It might be an emotion your protagonist doesn’t want to share or thoughts she doesn’t want to express. You’re here may not even be consciously aware of the problem, and could be avoiding or protecting something without realizing it.

Conscious Writing: Doubt

As you explore your characters, you might discover that many of their conflicts and obstacles are created by their inability to live authentically.

Your characters may hide parts of themselves due to fear or trauma, or a desire to avoid conflict or protect a loved one. They might not even be aware of what they’re hiding.

For today, ask a few questions about your protagonist and main characters:

  • What truth about himself does your protagonist – or any character – have difficulty facing?
  • What feelings does your protagonist have trouble experiencing and accepting?
  • What promise has your hero made to herself or others and failed to keep?
  • What’s preventing your protagonist from overcoming these weaknesses and living authentically?
  • What will it take for your hero to break bad patterns and how will doing so help them achieve their tangible goal?