In some ways, this blog is merely a continuation of a project of ten years or so, but switching it to a new URL is a beginning of sorts, and it can be useful to state intentions.
My general intentions for the blog are to post weekly, generally on a subject related to the process of writing, especially, but not exclusively, academic writing. My hope is that reflection on issues of the process will help writers find insight into their own processes. I often try to blend abstract reflection on ideas with specific practical suggestions, but I have been known to get absorbed in philosophy to the neglect of practical concerns. My hope is also that by presenting useful information about the writing process, I provide potential clients with evidence that my services are valuable. (I’ll risk the danger that my blog posts are so helpful that people who read them never need help again!) Thus, to summarize, my intentions are multiple: 1. to blog with a certain regularity; 2. to cover a certain subject; 3. to help writers; and 4. to promote my business.
But those are only my intentions for the blog generally. My intentions for this specific post are to describe my intentions for the blog, and to talk (well, write, actually, but…) about why I want to set my intentions, and, more generally, about the value I see in setting intentions/expectations/goals/what-have-you.
As a writer there are a few reasons that setting intentions/expectations/goals can be helpful. While I don’t think any of these reasons are rocket science or deep hidden secrets, I do think it worth trying to make them explicit as part of a program of convincing writers of the value of setting intentions.
Firstly, clearly stating intentions gives your readers a reason to read. By clearly stating that my intention is to help writers, potential readers who are interested in their writing process might be motivated to read. Admittedly, stating my intention also sends away potential readers who are not interested in writing, but that’s okay because I can’t really help people who aren’t writers. It’s not entirely out of the question that someone might enjoy my writing style, or might read my blog for a personal reason (like that they’re my friend), but on the whole, what I have to offer is help for writers. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to offer something that everyone wants—that’s got to be good for a business, right?—but rather that what I do have to offer is of value to only some people. By stating my intentions, I can create a connection with my readers.
A separate level of value in setting intentions is its value for my writing process. In this respect, setting intentions can be a two-edged sword: if intentions are poorly stated, disappointment can follow, and disappointment does not help a writer keep writing. At the same time, though, I believe that the other side of the dynamic is also operative: not only is there a danger of being disappointed after clearly setting intentions, but there is also a danger in not setting intentions, and not setting them clearly and realistically. Without setting intentions, you can spend a lot of time and at the end feel like you’ve got nothing to show for it (that may not be true—spending a lot of time writing, even if without clear intentions, can certainly help improve skill as a writer).
Setting intentions will help you focus efforts: if you say “I want to write a blog post”, that defines parameters. If you say “I want to write a blog post to help writers,” or “I want to write a blog post about setting intentions that will help writers,” all of these statements help me focus my efforts. Having set an intention, I have a focus for my writing that guides me when interesting but tangential ideas occur to me, or ones that are interesting and completely unrelated. My intentions help keep me from getting distracted.
It can be frightening to set intentions—by saying “I want to get published,” a standard is defined that can be violated, thus leading to disappointment or frustration. If I say (as I have), “I want to post a blog post each week,” then if I fail to post, I am disappointed. Multiple failures to post might even lead to sufficient disappointment in my ability to post that I start to think that I can’t live up to that standard. If I say I want to get published and I don’t get published, that is obviously disappointing.
But if we’re concerned with the psychology, isn’t it also worth noting that, because setting intentions is frightening—because saying “I want to get published” is intimidating—we might harbor the ambition without admitting it? A creative writer might say “Oh, I’m just writing for the fun of it,” when, in fact, he or she wants to be published but is concerned about setting a goal and then failing to reach it.
It might be worth it to state ambitious intentions and then be OK with not quite achieving them. After all, if you fail to achieve a goal on a first effort, that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it on the second. Indeed, often the first failure is crucial in providing guidance as to how to move forward.
I’m going to wrap up even though I’ve got more to say. One of my general intentions for this blog—one on which I was pretty clear, but which I did not state earlier—was to write posts of about 1,000 words in length, and I’m getting right up to that now. There’s more that I could say about setting intentions and the benefit in setting intentions, but I’m not going to cover it all.
Going forward, I want this blog to help writers. I want to provide guidance that helps people develop effective and productive writing processes and practices. My subjects and discussion will be skewed towards talking about academic writing, and especially common dissertation problems, because that’s where I’ve done most of my work, but a lot of writing issues are true for all writers.