Many writing instructors will remind their students to “keep your purpose in mind” while writing. This is an essential thing to do as it directs pieces from start to finish. In non-fiction, this is the thesis statement – the idea we prove through the piece. In fiction, it can be to entertain, perhaps by eliciting an emotion or exploring a theme through a particular arc.
Along those lines, instructors will also remind their students to “keep the audience in mind.” We want to make sure we tailor our voice to our audience. We don’t want our content to be inaccessible. We want it to be understandable and at just the right depth and breadth for our readers.
The question and guidance, however, that is often unasked (and therefore remains unanswered) is, how will this writing impact the world at large? How will this writing impact our readers? How will this writing influence opinions? Choices? Language? And therefore, reality as we know it?
Linguists and sociologists have explored the idea of language shaping reality. If we don’t have a word to talk about a concept, the concept doesn’t exist. In Greek, for example, there are several words for love, but in English, there is only one. There is no linguistic distinction between the love for a spouse, a child, or someone part of your “tribe.” In Hungarian, there are several words describing levels of carbonation, but in English there are only carbonated and still beverages. These between states do not exist.
Beyond specific words, the way we use them changes how we think about things. Rhetoricians study the impacts of the narratives we use to tell and shape reality. The story of one media outlet can vary significantly from the story of another – so much so, we can read a completely different world from two newspapers reporting the same event.
Writers are powerful beings because not only do we have command over words, but in how they are used. We can change a person’s opinion by the stories we write. We can ruin a person’s life or elevate another to fame in a few sentences.
Truly, the pen is mightier than the sword.
Unfortunately, the impact of our words and the power of them is often ignored, or glossed over. Because so often we forget to consider our impact, we write carelessly, letting our words fall all over the place – our ideas having any and all potential effects because they remain unconsidered.
But what if we didn’t?
What would happen if we thought about our ideas and wrote with the express purpose to have a positive impact? To make the world a better place with every word we wrote?
This is intentional writing, a term I use to describe the work I do, and anyone who writes with the intention to make the world a better place. This can involve any genre or form of writing, as long as the express purpose is to make the world a better place.
For me, my purpose is to spread empathy and compassion through my writing. I use different forms of writing in order to make the information and ideas as accessible as possible. This means I do it in blog posts (like this one), my newsletter, journal guides and reference books, but also in flash fiction and novels.
Even my social media posts are carefully worded and measured in order to communicate my intended purpose, because every word has impact. Every sentence and phrase is a chance to communicate with those who need my message. It is an act of service, in every post.
I think of it a bit like a trained martial artist. Such a person’s fists and feet are considered lethal weapons by the law. A martial artist uses their hands and feet carefully because they have such power. Once a writer is fully trained and knows the impact of their words, shouldn’t they also take responsibility for their words with every use? Shouldn’t every word be used intentionally?
What do you think? Leave a comment below!
About the author
If Margaret Atwood and C.S. Lewis had a lovechild, it would be Alexis. Having published a library of books, her work is incredibly varied, from fantasy and science-fiction, to memoir and journal guides. Through it all, runs Alexis’ purpose to increase empathy and compassion by focusing, creating, and sharing positive ideas through story.
Alexis lives in Southern California with her family. She is a classically trained artist, with a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies and an MA in Global and International Studies. Between writing, speaking, and chasing her kid, she paints, sings, and dances. Sometimes Alexis does it all at once. Find her on Twitter, Facebook , or her website .