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March 28, 2008

How Intention Adds Fuel To The Writing Fire

Intention is what allows me to write.  I guess you could call it my underlying inspiration.  What lights the touchpaper of my words.

By intention I do not mean plans, goals or aims to write X number of words a day or complete a book by August.  No by intention I mean my purpose in writing. 

The truth I want to tell.  The connection I want to establish. The difference I want to make.

Intention needs to work its way into the discussion on inspiration not just because I said I would, but because intention helps me whenever I get stuck with my writing - and I believe it will help you too. 

Because intention:

Breaks through writer's block.  Focus on the positive intention rather than the act of writing and the words will start to flow.

Changes your state.  Think about writing to inspire, to amuse, to challenge, to create and your state will change accordingly: to inspired, amused, challenging, creative.  The words will quickly follow.

Connects with your unconscious mind.  Focus on your positive intention and then get out of your own way.  Drop the obsessing with the act of writing or the choice of a particular word.  Your unconscious mind will provide precisely the words you're looking for.

Gives your words power.  I can't quite explain this one except to say when you write with strong, positive intention your words have a different quality: to move people, to spill spirits, to change things.

Intention was one of the possible themes for this month.  I could easily write about intention for 31 days, and here I am trying to squash it all into one post.  Sorry. 

Because there's more I want to add.  I want to share these words from three very different writers talking about the significance of intention.

It All Begins With Intention

Intention is what we wish to accomplish with our writing.  Call it the writer's soul.  We can write to affirm and to celebrate, or we can write to debunk and destroy; the choice is ours. 

Nobody can make us write what we don't want to write.  We get to keep intention.

Writing is related to character.  If your values are sound, your writing will be sound.  It all begins with intention.

William Zinsser: On Writing Well

Write With Intention: Ho'ohana, To Work Intentionally

To “work hard” is to be who you are meant to be, reaching in deep and grabbing hold of all the possibility within you. To work for something you want, is to love being who you are capable of being.

To ho‘ohana is to work intentionally, purposefully, and passionately and in work that is all about you. To ho‘ohana is to have resolve and determination, and to seek mastery with personal efforts of your own deliberate, thoughtful choice.

Rosa Say: Ho'ohana: Love Your Work

Substitute "write" for "work" and you have the essence of writing with intention.

A Story About Writing and Intention

Listen to this story: a poet once visited the court of a king who ruled in Arab lands yet knew no Arabic or Turkish.  The poet brought a beautiful eulogy to the king, but it was written, of course, in Arabic.  When he recited the poem, however, the king nodded at all the right places; laughed where he was supposed to; looked sad or amazed or contemplative at just the right moments.  After the poet left, the king's courtiers were worried.  Had the king known Arabic all along?  If so, they could be trouble for all the sarcastic asides they'd spoken to each other over the years in Arabic.  They bribed the king's favourite slave to find out.

One day, when the king was in a good mood, his servant asked him straight out - did he know Arabic?  If not, how did he know how to respond to the poet?

'Of course I don't know Arabic', said the king. 'But I knew what the poet's purpose was.  His purpose wasn't the poem, it was to impress, amuse and entertain me.  I understood him, so I didn't need to understand the poem.'

From Chapter 37: Outward Creative Power, The Sufi Book of Life by Neil Douglas-Klotz

I'm with Zinsser.  It all begins with intention.

This is what I mean when I talk about fire-breathing writing dragons.  This is what lights my writing fire.  This is what inspires me to write.

This piece is a contribution to a month long conversation on writing and inspiration.  Please subscribe to the feed if you'd like to get future articles.  There are three ways you can subscribe: by RSS feed, direct to your inbox, or a weekly digest.

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

99 Reasons To Read The Sufi Book Of Life - my review of the book on Joyful Jubilant Learning

Photo Credit: Young_Einstein on Flickr


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I especially like the reason:

"...to move people, to spill spirits, to change things."

Superior writing always has the power to change the soul of the person who reads it. That is one of the stands to which I strive for several of my writings.

Thanks for sharing!


Hi Joanna - I read this post at just the right time. I'm sitting here wondering how to write what I want to say. And you have given me the answer - don't wonder, just say it. Thank you.

Hi Barbara, it's good to see you here :-) I think great writing can move souls too - I guess what I was trying to say here is that is the intention is what gives the words the power to do so. Or that the intention provides the rocket fuel to make it so...

Cath, I'm glad you found what you were looking for. I love it when blogs are serendipitous like that!


Excellent post, Joanna. I think if more writers understood why they write, the quality (and volume) of their writing would skyrocket.

Thank you very much for writing this post. I, too, was in a lost state, and your post helped clear my vision. It felt like putting on a fresh new pair of lenses.

Oh, Joanna, I'm quite literally welling up after reading this post! It absolutely calls to my experience of writing, and yet I have never thought of it in quite the way you describe here. I particularly like the point you make about connecting with your unconscious mind. I think I need to spend some time thinking that one over, but I'd love to discuss it more with you when I have.
Thank you for such an inspirational post. I am so enjoying the this month's theme!

Thanks Bob. I think I'd go for quality in this regard - for the stuff that really counts.


Hello Afshin

What wonderful feedback! That helps to fuel my writing intention for the future.

Good luck with your own writing


Thank you Amy. This was one where I did dig in deep to try and share something important. I still haven't quite worked it all out in my mind, but I know that it's what makes the difference to my writing, over and over again.

I look forward to chewing the fat over it some more when next we meet


I've been practicing this very thing lately. I'd fallen into the rut of putting off and decided that I was getting nowhere. In ordering my tasks, intentionally blocking time and focusing on writing, just as you wrote and Bob Younce attested, I get more done. Your post is a fabulous affirmation that I'm on the right track. You did it again, Joanna. Thank you.

Thank you Joanna for adding my words here! As you well know, Ho‘ohana (and the English translation of intention) is right up there with Aloha as one of my most favorite words, because it IS such an intentional word. This is joy for me, having you help me celebrate the thought, and the living of it. Mahalo nui loa my friend, we Ho‘ohana together :)

Shari, that's great! I'm glad we can inspire each other as we weave our words together in the blogosphere :-)


Rosa, well thank you for teaching me these concepts, and adding so much to my understanding of work, writing, coaching and life in general!


Intention and Inspiration
1. I intend to write a poem.
2. I am inspired to write a poem.
In the first example, it can be said that I feel a desire to write a poem; or, perhaps, it may explain why I am reading a collection of poems (Purpose).
Talking about the second example, we can even say that there was no intention whatsoever – to write a poem or even to write anything at all. There is the tacit reference to someone or something that has caused this desire or intention to be felt.
With Intention in play, you push yourself.
With Inspiration in play, you are pushed by someone or something.
Grammar elucidates the difference:
‘I intend’ is active voice, and ‘I am inspired’ passive.
There is, however, a shared characteristic, too. ‘I intend’ and ‘I am inspired’ both suggest something impending. And, the suspense, as it were, is broken when we see action.
Let’s just explore two possible and relevant actions.
A. I intended to write a poem, but I ended up writing some nonsense.
B. I was inspired to write a poem, but the inspiration evaporated as enigmatically as it had come.
A describes how I failed to do what I had intended to do.
B rationalizes my (in)action.
Much as one might intend or be inspired to do something, nothing can be said until action takes place. When action does take place, even failure to achieve the object can be celebrated, and inertia censured.
I believe that Intention and Inspiration are secondary elements in the development of thought and expression. The primary and fundamental element is a force within, an impulse that manifests itself in the form of writing (as it does in many other forms), about the things that matter to us and stir us.
In conclusion, let me quote a passage from ‘What is Literature?’ by Jean-Paul Sartre:

Each has his reasons: for one, art is a flight; for another a means of conquering. But one can flee into a hermitage, into madness, into death. One can conquer by arms. Why does it have to be writing, why does one have to manage one’s escapes and conquests by writing?
If I fix on canvas or in writing a certain aspect of the fields or the sea or a look on someone’s face which I have disclosed, I am conscious of having produced them by condensing relationships, by introducing order where there was none, by imposing the unity of mind on the diversity of things.

Thanks for your lengthy comment Vaidy.

I suppose what I am meaning by intention is not so much "I intend to write a poem" as "I intend to wake someone up to the beauty of the sunlight as it glistens on the water at the beach at Whiting Bay, to move them with the possibility of change that sense of beauty offers..." and then to trust my unconscious mind to find the words.

The intention is positive so it moves me to act, it is part of my inspiration.

I think this fits within your gramamtical schema too - but just approaching intention a slightly different way round.


Thanks Joanna for your response.
Like you, I am also with Zinsser. He so beautifully shows how intention is inseparable from the individual – “Call it the writer's soul… Nobody can make us write what we don't want to write… We get to keep intention… Writing is related to character…”
I would imagine that he believes that writing is an egoistic act – more egoistic than altruistic. I believe so. That’s why I would rather say
"I intend to capture the beauty of the sunlight ..." instead of, as you put it,
"I intend to wake someone up to the beauty of the sunlight..."
Well, when we deal with such abstractions, it may not be possible to agree entirely one way or the other. That doesn’t matter. What is important is that we continue to have these wonderfully stimulating exchanges and profit by them.
Thank you so much for initiating such exchanges.

Vaidy, I agree absolutely it's good to have the discussion!

"I intend to capture the beauty of the sunlight" and "I intend to wake up someone up to the beauty of the sunlight" are different kinds of writing intentions but both very positive, powerful and inspirational (in my book). And both equally valid. Different times and moments demand different kinds of writing.

But both are different from the narrow intention of setting out to write the poem :-)

Thanks Vaidy for keeping me on my toes!


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