Write Yourself Better

A protagonist: a person who knows s/he wants something badly enough to fight for it. As working definitions go, that’s not bad; and it’s all about the fight, the effort, the commitment.

If you want to fight for something, you either believe you deserve it or that it’s morally right. If you do fight for something, it's foremost in your intentions; you exert planning, effort, and you will have a defining experience of yourself in real terms. (Reality’s the pay off for every interesting protagonist.)

So, when writing, if you want to write a story—not pretty sentences or deep ideas or clever designs, but a story that someone else will want to read—you must first create a protagonist (see definition). Readers naturally bond with protagonists for a couple reasons: as Samuel Johnson remarked, “We go from want to want, not from pleasure to pleasure.” Wanting is the brain activity that trumps all others, plain and simple. So when your protagonist is in the conscious effort of getting something s/he wants, that naturally attracts our interest as readers, because unlike movies or tv, reading requires conscious effort, too: you have to want to read. Wanting connects. It connects protagonists to their goals, but just as importantly, readers to protagonists.

And this kind of attention to writing want-driven characters may be a benefit to the writer. By writing a character consciously fighting to achieve specific goals (wants), the writer is disciplining her/his mind with a transferable behavior pattern: conscious want, effort, goals. In your story, your protagonist will always come out with a better understanding of who s/he really is because s/he consciously pursued a want that was difficult if not impossible; similarly, choosing to focus about this active, energetic character type will have a energizing and verifying effect on you.

This is not to say that you the writer are identical with your fictional characters---that's a silly idea: our characters do things we would never do; that’s one reason to write them---yet, who doesn’t wish for a richer, more focused sense of self? It’s what our protagonists achieve, and I have observed that writers can become more decisive in their own lives by making two simple protagonist adjustments: one in the writing, another about the writing.

The first, obviously, is to focus on writing protagonists (see definition) while putting aside all other preconceptions about what stories should be.

Two, is to be a writer who makes daily writing a priority in life. “Daily” is the key word. Writing once or twice a week won’t change you. But, if wrestling with protagonism is a daily mind- challenge, you will both get to be a better writer and become a stronger protagonist in your own life; as scientists know well, doing a mind exercise daily causes new neural pathways to grow
changing the brain. Writing protagonistically can change your brain and activate
your life.