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.
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 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.