The contract is signed! The short story collection has a new title–Crosscurrents and Other Stories–and a publication date: November 1!
So the whirlwind begins. I’ll be working with Kevin Watson, the fabulous editor at Press 53. I’ll be acquiring blurbs, proofreading, helping to decide on cover art and layout design, and fighting off bouts of anxiety (will the book sell three copies, or maybe thirty? Will anybody actually read it?)
I decided a long time ago that I wanted to go the traditional publishing route, which leads to lots and lots of submissions, re-writes, long waits, rejections, more re-writes, and more submissions and rejections. But this round (I entered the collection in Press 53’s short fiction contest where it was a runner-up), something clicked. Kevin, God bless him, gets these stories. I’m so proud to be part of the Press 53 family of authors.
So let’s raise a glass, friends and fellow writers, in celebration of this one small thing. A book. Of stories. And I’m going to be able to hold it in my hands.
Did somebody say launch party? I certainly hope so. Complete with bubbly. Come on down to Jackson and join us in the fall. I’ll let you know when!
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.
Over the last six weeks or so, I have gone places I’ve never gone before—on the Internet, that is. No, I have not been visiting naughty websites. I’ve been doing something the publishing industry calls “Building a Platform.” Note the caps, a signifier of importance. It seems a platform is important for writers. Even those of us without a published book are encouraged to go ahead and start putting ourselves “out there.” So that’s what I’ve been doing under the fabulous leadership of one Not-Bob, or Robert Lee Brewer, who led the My Name Is Not Bob April Platform Challenge.
April, you say? Yes, the challenge ended when April did, but the momentum continues.
I was already a Facebook person, and I “did” LinkedIn. I had signed up for Twitter, added Google+ and Red Room, and I’ve been visiting my fellow platformers’ blogs like crazy, with great admiration for their ability to write posts (daily, some of them; wow), juggle jobs and kids and lives and still write their novels or poetry or memoirs or whatever is dearest to their hearts.
My final goal was to create the Facebook Writer Page. Did I dare call myself a writer and make it a public declaration? When I finally held my nose and dived in, it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it was fun, and many friends and fellow writers dropped by quickly and “liked” the page, so it’s gotten off to a good start.
Something interesting surfaced in the midst of all that. When I started to create the page, I had to choose a category from among businesses, organizations, nonprofits, brands, and such. I considered all the options and decided on Artist, Band, or Public Figure. I’m not an Artist (well, that one’s close; I like to think I am, with words); I’m not a Band; and I’m certainly not a Public Figure. (Notice those caps again.) The ah-ha moment came when I held my breath and clicked on Artist and saw I had choices there, too.
What kind of person am I? What’s my identity?
Two of the options were “author” and “writer.” Hmmm. Author sounds a little stilted, I thought, so instinctively, I went with writer. After all, that’s what I call myself these days.
It started me thinking. I’m a former English teacher. I should know the distinction between those two words. Writer is more generic? An author is someone . . . more established? I finally gave in and looked them up. Here’s some of what I found.
(If you hate it when people quote the dictionary, you should maybe stop here.)
According to Merriam Webster: an author is “one that originates or creates; the writer of a literary work (as a book). Author originates from the Middle English auctour, from Anglo-French auctor, autor, from Latin auctor promoter, originator, author, from augēre to increase.” The word dates from the 14th century.
A writer is “one that writes [refers to the definition of write] as a:author[one and the same? Really?] and b: one who writes stock options.” The word traces to the 12th century.
So the word writer pre-dates author, but it doesn’t have the fancy pedigree.
My Dashboard dictionary on the Mac defines author as “someone who writes books as a profession” and writer as “a person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or regular occupation.”
Are we splitting hairs here?
Let’s look at the word write. Merriam Webster begins with the simplest definition—to “form characters or symbols on a surface with an instrument (as a pen)”—and progresses to “to set down in writing; to be the author of; to express in literary form.” Ah, getting closer. The example that follows is a line from Shakespeare: “if I could write the beauty of your eyes . . .”
So which am I? I think I’ll stick with writer.
A writer puts marks on a page, yes. She makes words, yes, and symbols, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters. Stories, memoirs, novels, poetry. She records the world as she sees it. She creates people and places and worlds that didn’t exist before.
A writer makes her mark on the world. That’s what I’d like to do. So call me writer, please. That’s the word for me.
Here’s a question for you: how do you see yourself? Do you call yourself a writer or an author? Is there a distinction in your mind? I expect there’ll be different opinions. I’d love to hear yours.