“What I Really Want”: The True Goal of the Writing Life — Guest Writer Khara House

It’s my pleasure to welcome Khara House back to The Writerly Life. Khara addresses a common dilemma among writers: who we are, and why we do what we do.

“What is your ultimate goal?”

I just faced this question during multiple job interviews over the past few weeks. What do you want? What are your career goals? I, like many potential employees, have what I think are well-prepared answers to such tough questions when it comes to trying to secure a job.

Yet it occurs to me that we as writers are often asked this same question … and our prepared response may not be the right one.

When it comes to the question of what we want as writers, there’s one answer that comes instantly to mind: “I want to be published.” That’s, to generalize, the standard response: the ultimate goal. There’s just one problem with it … I don’t think that’s actually what we want. Furthermore, I think the belief that publication is the “ultimate goal” for writers is one of the top reasons many of us sometimes feel intense dissatisfaction with our writing lives.

Connected / Gerry Wilson
Connected / Gerry Wilson

The problem is …

Before I suggest what the real answer to this question might be, let me explain why the “published” response may be the wrong answer. First, publication isn’t an end, and thus it cannot actually be an ultimate goal. Publication is a foothold. It’s a step along the way to what I think we really want. It’s part of the process. Think about it. If publication was the ultimate goal, why would any writer create more than one book? Why, when a poet gets her first publication credit or his first collection in print, do they not simply say, “Well, that’s it then, I guess I’m done”? If publication was the ultimate goal, then once it’s done, it’s done … there’s no more.

That leads to the second problem with the “published” answer: Publication, in itself, is not satisfying. Think of publication like eating a piece of chocolate out of a box. Yes, you’ve tasted that sweet, rewarding flavor … but what happens a moment later? You realize: there’s more where that came from. And you want more. The same goes for publishing. It is a taste, not a full meal. It’s a single sweet morsel on a full banquet table.

So, then … “What is your ultimate goal?”

I would argue that the ultimate goal for all of us as writers is not “to be published,” and not even that step beyond publication which is “to be read.” I would, instead, offer this: That our ultimate goal as writers is to touch. Think about it: our lives are filled with that longing to touch, to reach into the lives of others and have them feel what we’ve done to, and for, and in them. When we write blog posts, we don’t write them and say, “That’s it.” We wait for engagement. But if being read was enough, we’d be satisfied with page view counts … and any blogger will tell you that that’s not quite enough, either. What makes us feel fulfilled is that moment when the hand we’ve held out with our words is suddenly taken by the hand of someone else, with words of response. A thank you. A word of praise. A connection. That’s what we long for.

So how does this change things?

I think one reason writers are often so disappointed in their writing lives is that they set the wrong item on their pedestals. Publication is a big stepping stone, but it’s only a pebble in comparison to what else is out there for us as writers. If you don’t get published in the major outlets or sign a book deal, you’re left disappointed. But, what’s worse, if you do get published in the major outlets, or sign that book deal, and nobody responds … you’re left disappointed. No, that’s not the end for us. That’s not our ultimate goal. How much more satisfying is it to have one person respond to one thing we’ve written with applause or a tear or a “Thank you” or a comment than it is to have a thousand copies of our life’s work in print and untouched?

To touch … That is our ultimate goal. And while it may seem small, or vague, I argue that there is nothing more substantial, and nothing more meaningful. And I argue this: That if you have touched one person with your words, you have achieved more than many have in life. Even if you never publish a bestseller, you have done a mighty deed.

To publish? That is to dream.

But to touch? That is to reach out and grasp all the glories our dreams have never dared imagine.

Do you agree with the assessment that “publication” cannot truly be the “ultimate goal” of writing? Why or why not? What are you, as a writer (or artist), chasing as the finish line of your craft?

Khara HouseKhara House is a poet, freelance writer, and educator. Originally from Pennsylvania, she now lives in Arizona, where she works as a writing and career tutor. You can visit and learn more about Khara online at www.kharahouse.com, on Twitter at @ourlostjungle, or on Facebook.

29 thoughts on ““What I Really Want”: The True Goal of the Writing Life — Guest Writer Khara House

  1. How well put Khara – it’s easy to get swept up in the urgent need to “be published”, “be read”, “be heard”, “be noticed”, and on and on – and forget that at the base of it and after it all, what we all want and need ultimately is to be able to touch and be touched. It makes sense of so much. Thanks for a great interview to both you and Gerry.

    1. Thank you! It’s funny sometimes to me that among the senses the one that often makes many of us the most uncomfortable is also the one many of us long for the most. Maybe it’s the line between physical and figurative touch … but what a powerful sensation it is in either case!

  2. Another thought-provoking piece from you, Khara. When I started participating in open mics, I was surprised when some people came up to me and told me a story about themselves that was invoked by a poem. The sharing of stories remains my favorite part of doing readings.

    1. Thank you, Michelle. That’s a great story you shared, and it really is one of the great parts of sharing at a live reading– there’s a much greater chance that someone out there will be able to come and directly share with us as writers how we touched their lives!

  3. Very insightful, Khara! “To touch” is the best description I’ve heard of what we all seem to want as writers. We want publication, we want to be read, but mainly, we want to know our writing touches peoples lives on a larger scale.

    1. Thank you so much! It’s such a powerful thing to be able to do, and have done, in our lives, isn’t it? And, I think, a unique gift for artists in all mediums!

  4. What I really want is to get that Spice Girls’ song out of my head. LOL!
    Other than that, this is a special piece, Khara. I wish there was something I could add, but you covered it all so well.

    1. Thank you so much, Amy. (And sorry about the Spice Girls … it’s now in my head, if that makes you feel any better!)

  5. These are some great questions, especially at the start of the year when a lot of us set goals and hit “reset”. Actually, one of my goals is to make money. It might sound silly and superficial, but I want to work at something I love, and I love to write. I want to be able to support myself by writing. Right now it means I have less time for creative writing because I spend more time doing paid writing for education companies, but I’m ok with that.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Emily! And I don’t think it’s silly or superficial at all; to “touch” the green stuff is pretty great, too! 🙂

  6. Thanks for writing this, Khara! I’ve been thinking about this topic lately. I’ve recently passed the “I want to be published” phase to the “I want to be read” stage. I think you’re right, though: what I really want is to connect with and touch others. Thanks for formulating the words to my thoughts.

  7. Good perspectives, Khara. I can certainly appreciate that writers have a primal desire to touch others with our words and to gain knowledge of that satisfaction through comments, feedback, or link sharing, but for me, my major goal right now is to publish my first book, although now, I’m not so sure it will be about faith. I like to think that I have many writing goals and subgoals.

    In fact, challenged by Nina Amir’s perspectives (http://www.writenonfictionnow.com), I am making the time to clearly delineate my writing goals and define them in context of 2013 only. It has been an ongoing 3-week process that I have been working on slowly, consistently, and honestly within my realm of time, ability, resources, and current lifestyle. I can’t say that publication is my final, end-all “ultimate” goal any more than I can say that “ultimately,” I want my daughters to attend good colleges.However, I can say with confidence that my main goal for 2013 is to achieve publication of one book, with consistent blogging on three separate sites and completion of several other smaller writing projects.

    1. Thanks for your comment; and that’s very smartly put, regarding having many goals and sub-goals. For me, publication is always a sub-goal, or a landmark goal. It’s a big deal, just not THE big deal. And that’s not to say that there aren’t writers out there for whom publication really is the icing on the cake, or that there’s anything wrong with that! Best of luck with your goals, and sub-goals, and everything in between in 2013!!

  8. I think so Khara. For me, as an artist, it’s very satisfying when someone wants to buy a painting and look at it displayed in the house, it does mean the painting has touched their heart and soul. One other thought I always have is this is my job, and, as my job, I go to work every day creating content…paintings, photography, writing…and like any job, I am responsible for creating content people will like and respond to. Isn’t that like being any sort of manufacturer or sales person or professional? It’s good to think of our work as writers or artists as professional work and not as “that little thing we do on the side”. That ultimate publishing and selling and work is just a part in this job process. 🙂

    1. I agree, Veronica; whether we’re “full-time” writers or “part-time” writers, writing is never just a side job … it’s part of who we are! That’s a great way of looking at it. Thanks so much for commenting!

  9. This is fantastically timed. And Ironic, because really in both my passions (as I’ve been redefining them lately) I want to touch people, both with words and with the spaces they live, work, surround themselves. It’s why I did the thesis topic I did, and it’s why I love buildings. And, it’s why I love to write: to have someone say to me: I loved your story!

    1. Thank you, Heather. It always amazes me to see the creative ways people reach out to touch each other, be it in writing, song, architecture, etc. There’s that sense we’re always meant to be “close,” even if we’re not *close*.

  10. That urge to connect with others comes from our intense communal impulses. Unfortunately, communities are so fractured in contemporary culture. Many writers are trying to rebuild that community in the blogosphere.

    1. You are so right, Joanne; “community” is a changed concept in this day-and-age of digital communications. Hopefully we (writers/bloggers/etc.) continue to find (or fight) our way back to the heart of our “communal impulses”! Thank you so much for commenting!

  11. Words of Wisdom, Khara. I always look forward to your insights on Our Lost Jungle and always enjoy Gerry’s writings… and today I get double the pleasure! Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much, Val! I so appreciate your comment and interactions … and agree, I’m a big fan of Gerry, too! I’m thankful for this (to use some “modern-tech lingo”) “multi-touch” opportunity!

  12. Words of Wisdom, Khara. I always look forward to your insights on Our Lost Jungkeand always enjoy Gerry’s writings… and today I get double the pleasure! Thank you.

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