Creativity Workshop

How Do You Write with Honesty and Courage?

What does it mean to write with honesty and courage? What is the relationship between the writer and her work? Do you sometimes step back and look at what you are writing as an opportunity to gain self-awareness or as a practice of self-development?

Here are five ways I try to write with honesty and courage:

  1. I practice the art of noticing. Not only seeing, but trying to understand the significance of what I am seeing (or experiencing). Then, I use this information to capture the essence of what I’ve learned on the page.
  2. I let go of control when I am writing and let the words lead me somewhere. I release my expectations and trust that whatever forms on the page was meant to form on the page (for now). I can regain my sense of control during the revision phase of the process.
  3. If I enter into writing something that is difficult, I light a candle. When I’m done writing, I blow out the candle. Using ritual can help to establish boundaries and safety.
  4. If I don’t want to share a piece of writing because it is too personal, then I don’t share it. Writing with honesty and courage is separate from the act of sharing the work with readers.
  5. I often close my eyes when I am writing, pausing only when the inner voice fades. Closing my eyes helps me to listen. I’m doing it now as I write this post. I allow my inner voice to lead me through the piece.

“The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.”

Thomas King

I love this quotation about story. I think about the stories we tell ourselves. The stories other people tell about us. The stories we tell others. The stories we hear from others. Story is a universal human experience. There are elements of story in how we live our lives and in every form of writing.

“You have to be careful with the stories you tell. And you have to watch out for the stories that you are told.”

Thomas King

In this video, I reflect on the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the plays of William Shakespeare. How did they use their understanding of what it means to be human in their work? How can we learn from them?

Let’s Create:

We will begin by getting into people’s heads! Create a character profile. Download the worksheet attached below. Use it to create a new character or to gain insight on a character you’ve already met.

Mimo’s Church
By Jessica Outram

pine walls 
shadowy hand-carved 
pictures hung between giant 
wooden trunks connect 
pine ceiling to pine floor

we sit
heavy, dark, hard, oak pew
sticky with time groans
and cracks as Mimo 
leans back from the kneeler

glazed rows of people 
still and straight like dolls 
Mimo made from old-fashioned clothespins

rows of women float
down the aisle draped in layers of white cotton
gesture and bend in unison 
tree spirits

Mimo sits nearest the choir
closes her eyes as she sings
her soft soprano notes hover

at the end presses coins into my palm
tall red candles by the altar
Your momma misses you.

slide in coins
light a candle
flicker for seven days 
hello prayers for Mom 
stab the tip of the stick in the sand
a sizzle, then smoke

sometimes I think I remember Mom 
soft scent of lemon 

Do I have a father?
You have a Mimo…
But a father?
Your momma didn’t want to share you.
folding into her big arms
pulling so close our hearts touched
Mimo hums

until next week
coins slither in sweaty hand 
walk past red candles to the other side 
to green 
flaming stick wiggling then
flickering for seven days with hello prayers for him 

my father
maybe a flame shining like a searchlight

Consider: Honesty and Courage in Characters

What makes a character compelling? What can we learn from psychology about characterization? Explore ways to get into your character’s head and heart in new ways.

Review the 6 Clues to Character: Intimacy, Friendship, Goodness, Happiness, Drive, Intelligence.

Consider a character you have created (or a person you know). Write down one question to ask your character for each clue. How can this information influence character development in your work?

“Does anyone of us know who our lovers, our friends, our business partners, our children—and even ourselves—will become, especially when tossed into a new set of circumstances?”

Use Questions as a Way to Go Deeper Into Understanding Your Character

  • How do their actions align with their personalities? Their relationships?
  • Are the motivations strong, clear, focused, and consistent? Do they want what they want so much that no one’s going to stop them? How do they go after what they want? How do the obstacles unfold?
  • How do the characters interact with the environment and what they know about each other?
  • How does the conflict reveal character?
  • What is the worse possible thing that could happen to your character What is the best possible thing that could happen? What are the limits?
  • How is life made difficult for your character? In Romeo and Juliet, the inciting incident is when Romeo falls in love with Juliet.  In Death of a Salesman, the inciting incident is Biff returning home.

What is at Stake?

In How Fiction Works, James Wood writes: “So the vitality of literary character has little to do with dramatic action, novelistic coherence, and even plain plausibility—let alone likeability—than with a larger philosophical or metaphysical sense, our awareness that a character’s actions are deeply important, that something profound is at stake, with the author brooding over the face of that character like God over the face of the waters.”

Look at your character through the lens of this quote. Does any shifting happen?


Using a collection of your writing pieces, scan for patterns, themes, indications of truth. What does this look like for you?

Reflect and Analyze

Do you ‘edit-out’ pieces of yourself from the work? Think about stifling messages or denying forms to meet the needs of a particular publication or audience. What drives you to take risks, to dive deep into yourself?


Write a story outline about an epic quest, including travel, a sidekick, insurmountable complications, monsters, a grand battle scene, and the return home. Everything is symbolic. 


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