How Understanding Your Emotions Makes You a Better Writer

I’d like to invite Katie Milton back to the blog. Give her a warm welcome. Today she will be talking about understanding your emotions and how that will make you a better writer.

Photo Credit : Katie Milton
Photo Credit : Katie Milton

We’ve all met that stoic face behind the cash register at our neighborhood box store. They listlessly scan our items and they inattentively place them in bags. The dollar amount is mumbled as we hand over a fistful of money. It is vanilla, it is plain, it is bland. We are no better or worse than we were when we entered the store.

Compare that to the presumed crazy guy behind the counter that looks you in the eye when he says, “Good Morning!” — And he means it! He sings and undulates his hips in dance like maneuvers as he counts your change. This guy has you putting down your smartphone giving him your full attention as you wonder what he is drinking in his coffee mug. You wonder if his past life included guest performances on Sesame Street.

Of course there are likely lots of variables involved with cashier A’s stoicism and cashier B’s excitement but the point is that cashier B has you engaged because he is engaged with his own emotions and feelings. Sometimes writers pursue such perfection in their writing that they overlook how much the element of emotion affects their readers.

Dry, emotionless writing doesn’t sell fiction novels.

“Most of us like our fiction to touch us. And not only a simple nudge. We want to be prodded and pulled and pushed. We want tears and laughter and shivers and breathlessness. We want to feel the more-than-normal emotions that fictional characters experience. If we didn’t, we’d be satisfied with the business report and the newspaper article and our magazines.” — Beth Hill, Fiction Editor

Emotions pull a reader into a story almost immediately because emotions are connection points. Being able to understand and express emotions in your writing creates empathy in your readers — They “feel” and experience what your character is going through.

Much like the examples of the cashiers above, using emotions in writing can create a visceral response in your readers. Cashier A will likely make you feel slow and sluggish, that is IF they get your attention long enough to put down your phone or the magazine that you grabbed from the kiosk. Cashier B immediately has your attention and you might even be tapping your foot along with whatever music he has playing behind the register. Cashier B makes you smile — even if it is because you are laughing at him and not with him.

Some writers overlook the importance of understanding their emotions.

While trying to attain perfection in our writing, many things can be overlooked, including characters and scenes with highly developed emotions. There are a gazillion advantages to understanding and developing full bodied emotions in your writing! Here are a few.

  • Writing about emotions can be therapeutic for both the author and the reader. Imagine that you are writing a memoir and you have lived through a unique challenge. Having the courage to speak out about your experience not only allows you freedom from a challenging past but it can inspire your readers to find healing as well.
  • Writing full of emotion makes the reader remember. Although I have not yet had the opportunity to read this particular novel, the name alone ensures that I will not forget its title; The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. The main character in this novel has a unique gift, she can taste emotions in food. For example, she bites into her mother’s lemon-chocolate cake and “to her horror discovers that her mother tastes of despair!” You want to know more, don’t you?
  • Writing while using strong emotion allows us to be more energized, focused, and enthusiastic. Full time writers occasionally experience writer’s block, but not usually when they are energized, focused, and enthusiastic. As a matter of fact, I believe that is when some of the best writing is written!
Photo Credit : Katie Milton
Photo Credit : Katie Milton

Understand your emotions.

Express them.

Engage readers.

Write a bestseller.

“By going behind the facade of your characters, you’ll write ones with real meaning and purpose. Submerged feelings, once emerged will enrich your life as a writer and give your characters an emotional reality. You’ll need to answer questions about your characters’ emotional life such as: Is your character depressed? How does your main character emotionally relate to other characters? What is the emotional make-up of your main character and your major characters? As you better understand the importance of knowing how to inject emotions into your characters, you’ll be able to answer these questions for all of your characters in any story.” — Rachel Ballon, Ph.D

 Step One:

Understand your emotions


– Use quiet time to get in touch with your emotions. Put a name to what you are feeling.

– Hire a life coach to help you better understand yourself and develop more self awareness around your emotions.

– Use a dictionary and/or thesaurus to literally understand the definition of your feelings or feelings you want your characters to embody.

Step Two:

Express your emotions

– Journal your feelings; challenge yourself to use all 5 senses.

– Use the dictionary and/or thesaurus to find synonyms and antonyms for your feelings.

– Imagine that you cannot speak or write – how do you convey your emotions? By dancing? Aggressive behavior? Tears? Laughter? What about the facial expression?

Step Three:

Combine that all and use it to re-energize your current WIP.


– What did you uncover by playing around with the above exercises? How can you use that to engage your readers? What parts of your story might need an emotional breath of life?

What tricks do you use to make the emotion in your writing stick out to your reader?


f1b92d454f6b47ae9a599141977a13afKatie Milton (@MiltonKatie) is an aspiring writing living in Isla Mujeres, Mexico who enjoys travel, Paleo food, red wine, and dreams of someday riding an elephant. Find her at

4 thoughts on “How Understanding Your Emotions Makes You a Better Writer

    1. So happy to have ya here again, Katie!!! One way that I make my emotions come alive is through journaling and blogging. I love writing about my daily adventures and in a way that allows me to write about how I’m feeling as well. And it’s awesome for looking back at later.

      1. Devin, blogging and journaling are great for getting emotions and ideas down on paper. I really like getting into each word/emotion and fully understanding its definition and its visceral responses in my body. Everyone is different and taking time to unpack feelings helps in the writing process, I think. Cheers!

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