In my last two letters, I shared two of my top tips for writers: reading for enjoyment and reading like a writer. Today’s letter is about my third top tip: writing with intention. Essentially, this approach encourages authors to utilize the principles discussed in the previous two letters in their writing practice.
Just as reading for enjoyment serves a different purpose than reading like a writer, writing with intention will look different at various stages of your creative process. Depending on your current project and writing goals, writing with intention can mean writing for enjoyment; writing with purpose; or sharing your writing. I’ll unpack each of these stages below.
Writing for Enjoyment
Whether you’re at the beginning of your journey as a writer or are simply at the start of a new story idea, it’s easy for questions about the future of your book to intrude on your writing process. While it’s natural to wonder about the later stages of writing and publishing—how quickly you’ll be able to write and revise, or what the submissions process will be like, or how many copies your book could potentially sell—these unknowns can also turn your initial excitement into anxiety and can make the challenges you face seem insurmountable.
If this is an area you’ve struggled with, I’d encourage you to try setting aside a certain amount of time for creative brainstorming, exploration, and play. Rather than aiming to write a set number of pages or to meet another concrete writing target, the goal of this period is to reignite your excitement for and enjoyment of writing—whether you have a specific idea in mind for your next project or not. You might try completing writing prompts, character surveys, or other writing exercises; making a mood board or playlist; testing new writing routines; participating in a workshop or writing challenge; or exploring an unfamiliar style, perspective, or genre.
In short, writing for enjoyment is about giving yourself permission to write without a specific goal or end product in mind. If you already have an idea for your next story, this period can also allow you to brainstorm more about your characters, their world, and their journey before you dive into the manuscript. Ultimately, taking away the pressure to produce usable material can give you the freedom to approach your future writing from a place of curiosity, rather than judgment.
Writing with Purpose
Balancing the approach of writing for enjoyment is writing with purpose. While writing for enjoyment is focused on exploration, writing with purpose is focused on specificity—honing your skills with a specific audience, genre, perspective, or story in mind.
Writing with purpose does not mean that every page you write needs to be ready to publish, or even close to it. To use a sports analogy, writing with purpose is the act of practicing what you want to perform. Just as athletes spend hours practicing for every minute of game time, every page you write can help to hone your skills and bring you closer to your writing goals—whether or not that page ends up in your final manuscript.
Depending on where you are in your writing journey, writing with purpose might mean finishing your first full manuscript draft, no matter how imperfect. It might mean adjusting the amount of time you spend planning versus writing, whether that’s making an outline; brainstorming an initial list of scenes that you are excited to write; or giving yourself a time limit for world building before you start drafting. Or it might mean investing the time to revise your first draft rather than moving on to a new story idea.
As with writing for enjoyment, thinking of writing as practice can also help to take off some of the pressure. As Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
Sharing Your Writing
If your ultimate goal is publication, the final step of writing with intention is to share your writing. As I’ve mentioned in previous letters about writing groups and critique partners, receiving feedback on your work from a like-minded and trustworthy person is invaluable, especially before you begin to share your work more widely. While it can take time to find the right person or group, the end result—discussing your work with someone who can provide thoughtful feedback—is well worth it.
Your Editor Friend,
P.S. If you found this letter helpful, please consider sharing it with a friend or subscribing to receive letters straight to your inbox every Wednesday. If you’d like to say hello, share feedback, or submit a question that I might answer in a future letter, please email me! I’d love to hear from you.