Dani Shapiro
May 3, 2010

On Intention

In the yoga and meditation world–really in the world of anyone seeking–the concept of intention comes up a lot.  Setting an intention.  Being aware of one’s intention.  Remembering one’s intention.  In the writing world, this word comes up far less, but I think I want to bring it into the dialogue about what it means to sit down to write.  Do we sit down with scattered thoughts and ideas?  With a wish and a prayer?  With a bit of self-trickery (as I have often done) pretending that it doesn’t matter, the whole “here goes nothing” approach to beginning something new, which I’ve found helpful over the years because it silences the whispering voice that tells me I can’t do it anyway?

People often ask me how I know if a glimmer of an idea should be a short story, a novel, an essay, a memoir, a screenplay–or anything at all.  That part of it always seems clear to me from the get-go, and I’ve been thinking about why.  Recently, a few loose ideas have been floating around my mind.  Two are clearly novels.  One is a short story.  One is either a screenplay or a magazine profile.  In all likelihood, only one of these (if any) will see the light of day.  I’ll mull, I’ll obsess, I’ll talk a little about it with a trusted friend or two–and then I will sit down at some point, and embark.  Usually, this point of embarkation for me comes from a pretty committed place.  One idea will have risen to the surface and announced itself as The One.  I’m not much of a player, a tinkerer.  I spend quite a bit of time between books, and that time is usually all about coming up with the next idea.  This happens not from sitting at my desk tearing my hair out, but doing other things–sleeping, eating, yoga, walking, driving, taking baths.  In fact, just the other night, one of my ideas for a novel came to me while putting on my make-up before going to a wedding!  But once it does, this is where I think intention comes in.

Intention.  A beautiful word, really.  When I think of it, I think of a face: rapt, brow slightly furrowed, eyes focused.  A body, posture alert.  A certain readiness, framed by the moment.  Intention pulls us into the moment.  It tunes out the external, the detritus, the useless worries.  Come into this second, this minute, it seems to say.  Bring your whole self to bear on setting this single word down on the page.  And then the next one.  And the next.  And here we go.