When I sat down to write this post, my intention was to describe how to write more creatively by setting your own intention.
I also intended to clean out the garage this weekend, and I’m certain that the President intends to solve the crisis in the Middle East. Most likely, I will walk to the store for ice cream instead, and the President will fly to Vermont for some fresh Ben & Jerry’s before dealing with Iran.
Like so many intentions, the one for this post went astray (shortly after I booted up my computer, I think). I still intend to write about setting your intention, but that will have to be in a later post.
Before I can get to that, though, I need to share the four reasons I hate the phrase, “set your intention.”
“Set Your Intention” Reminds Me of the Yoga World
As a longtime yoga teacher and student, I often hear these buzzwords at the beginning of yoga classes. Many times, “set your intention” is a way for yoga teachers to fill the awkward space before the first yoga pose. It’s similar to “Namaste” spoken by the teacher at the end of a yoga class—this signals that the class is over, and reminds students that they were guided by a “real” yoga teacher.
“Set your intention” is so full of cringe-worthy, yoga feel-goodedness that it should definitely be on Recovering Yogi’s list of “Words We Loathe & Abhor.” Right up there with “cultivate” and “abundance” as words to never use … ever again.
Sadly, it’s not on the list (yet).
I’m really not as anti-yoga-establishment as some of the Recovering Yogis, but I still hate the phrase, “set your intention.” My dislike, though, is based not so much upon yoga/woo-woo/bats$%& grounds, but on my standards as a writer. (Yes, even writers have some standards.)
“Set Your Intention” Is One of Many Needless Buzzwords
As a writer, I pride myself on using language effectively. Like most clichés, buzzwords such as “set your intention” are so overused that they have lost the original substance that once made them so effective.
Buzzwords are like the exoskeletons of long-dead insects. On the outside, the creature stuck to the screen on the kitchen window may resemble a fly, but eventually you realize that inside is only an insect void.
People who use buzzwords often start out with great intentions (yes, I said that word), but in the end, they are avoiding the truth that they are so desperately seeking. Sounding Zen-like only works if there’s something beneath the cryptic words that will crack open your soul. The rest is just marketing.
“Set Your Intention” Triggers Negative Emotions
The job of creative writers is to control the reaction of their readers, as much as possible.
If you have convinced yourself that you are writing for yourself, I’d hate to be there when your partner finds out that you are also having sex for yourself.
Every reader reacts differently to your words, though. You will never be able to completely predict those responses. And unlike teaching yoga classes, you can’t be there to adjust your words when you realize you’ve triggered a negative emotion in your reader.
For me, “set your intention” is one of those triggers.
Before using a phrase, it’s good to examine what connotations they might carry for your readers. If these are widespread enough, you should deal with them up front.
The dictionary notes that “intend” is used with actions that you may or may not be serious about getting done. They are part of your ever-changing “bucket list.” For example: I intend to clean out the garage, but I’m pretty sure that I’m going to walk to the store to get ice cream instead. Still, I feel good when I make my intention known, even if I’m doomed to sweet chocolatey failure.
Outside of yoga classes, yoga teachers also compare “set your intention” to New Year’s Resolutions. This usage, while poetic and almost inspiring, only reinforces the idea that intentions are promises that will quickly be forgotten.
“Set Your Intention” Signals Lazy Writing
“Set your intention” is well on its way to becoming a full cliché, even outside of the yoga community. There is still hope for it, though.
Just like buzzwords, clichéd words and phrases signal lazy writing. No creative writer is immune from the curse of clichés. When I first sit down at my desk in the morning, this kind of useless dribble fills much of my writing. It’s the scum that collects on the surface of my mental pond.
Vague writing—such as using clichés—is a sign that you: 1) don’t know what you are writing about, 2) don’t care what you are writing about, 3) don’t know how to be creative, or 4) are too lazy to put in the effort.
It’s perfectly fine to use phrases like “set your intention,” but you have to give them a life of their own. What does the word or phrase mean? Actually, what does it mean in the context of your writing?
Sometimes, before I can write creatively, I have to do 20 or 30 minutes of freehand writing. This removes most traces of pond scum. Without this, I can’t see to the bottom of the pond where the best ideas lie hidden.
Don’t let common usage of a word or phrase drag your writing in an unintended direction. Again, your job as a creative writer is to control—as much as possible—the experience of your readers.