Exploring the art of prose


Best Intentions

What is an intention? We know it, mostly, as an aim or a plan. When you begin to write a short story or a novel, you have a general sense of something that’s guiding you forward. It might be a character. It might be a setting. It might be the difference between the way the world looks and the way you wish it looked.

As you write and revise, the story’s intent may change. Ah, you may say, I thought I was writing about x but instead this story is really about y. That’s when your subconscious comes into play, when those obsessions bubble up from within.

Interestingly, there are other definitions of “intention” that are relevant. In medicine, the first intention is “the healing of a wound by natural contact of the parts involved” while the second intention is “the healing of a wound in which the edges do not meet, and new epithelium must form across granulation tissue.” This seems to apply to writing as well.

In the initial draft or drafts, the writer is somewhat instinctively creating parts to form a whole. There isn’t, or shouldn’t, be a great deal of attention paid in these beginning stages to how the pieces will come together. Later, in the revision process, there is more focus on those connections and where “the edges do not meet.” That’s when the editor’s eye takes over, when the writer is searching for ways to create that connective tissue. To make the parts become whole.

Thinking about both the first and second intentions, and how one’s intentions change during the process of writing can be extremely helpful. Simply being aware of your intent, and how it shifts and alters, can help to guide you as you write.


  • Keep track of your intentions for each piece that you write. When you begin, jot down your starting impulse. Why did you start writing this? What are you hoping to do with it?
  • After you finish your first draft, set the piece aside. When you return to it, read through it and then, without looking at the intentions you wrote originally, write down your intentions now. What’s important here? What are you trying to say? What are the underlying themes?
  • Look at the two different sets of intentions that you wrote. How are they different? How has the piece evolved? In what ways can you now tweak the work to fall in line with your intentions?
  • After another set of drafts, pay particular attention to the places where the parts don’t seem to be making a whole. What can you do—as an editor, now, and as a writer—to ensure that the pieces fit together?


by Laura Spence-Ash