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Intent – short story writing inspiration

Elvis Elvis

Intent is all you need. Rather than working hard to find your stories, let your stories work hard to find you.

In her books Wild Mind and Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg counsels writers to approach the page from a place of spirituality and awareness of soul. In Zen and the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury teaches story as an act of the subconscious rather than the conscious, advocating free-association and word games. Jack Canfield, Joe Vitale, Lisa Nichols and many other creatives advocate opening yourself up to a kind of spirituality called The Law of Attraction – a principle that effectively ensures you’ll get everything you want in life.

Following this rubric, you can make a powerful assumption: that you will not have to work hard searching for stories. Your stories will work hard to find you. All you have to do is open up the head space for them. You don’t have to believe in Zen Mysticism or the Law of Attraction or The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to put this idea to work in your writing life.

All you need is intent.

Writing is a process. Writers have a hard time answering the inevitable question “where do you get your ideas?” because it’s tough to explain that process. Once in a while – very rarely – a story will come to me, full-blown, peopled and plotted and ready to put on paper.

Most of the time, an idea will come, I’ll sit on it for awhile, think about other things, write something else, come back to it, maybe throw a character at it, see if it sticks. While I’m doing this, life is going on around me. Sometimes life will throw in the necessary lightning strike that moves the thing from idea to story. Sometimes that takes weeks. Sometimes months. I have one story idea that I started working on while I was deployed to the deserts of Southern Turkey immediately following Operation: Desert Storm in 1991. Sixteen years later, that story is still unfinished.

Intent   short story writing inspiration

When I do finish it, if somebody asks me how long it took to write, what should I say? A couple of weeks to draft and polish? Or sixteen years, from conception to completion?

We don’t always control that process. To take advantage of it and make it work for you, live with intent. Living with intent means your sonar is always on. You’re always sweeping the waters, scanning the shallows and the deeps and the trenches, waiting for the “ping” that means story.

It’s finding your own definition of truth, what you really think and feel about the world around you. It’s tuning in.

Sometimes this will mean a lot of living and not much writing. That’s okay. It’s fine. This isn’t an office job with expected productivity at the end of every work day. Living is good. Living prevents you from ever, ever writing a story in which the main character is a writer (please, I beg you, don’t do it, no matter how tempted you may be). Living is the raw material.

Add intent, and it’s the raw material for your stories.

Intent moves you in certain directions. You challenge platitudes, upend conventional wisdoms, look under rocks and crawl into dark caves and never take anything at face value.

The writer’s job is to dig. Intent is the direction in which you should be digging. Intent produces stories that mean something to you – issues you care about; people who could be your brothers, sisters, lovers; changes in the earth and air, telling the future. Every culture except ours has embraced writing as predictive, magical, perhaps supernatural.

Even our culture understands the power of story – the power of words to create, to rip a hole through the page into somewhen else.

Intent is the direction on the compass. Watch it. When it moves, move with it. When you hear that blip, follow it. All engines full.

That’s where your story is. Intend to find it, and it will find you.