Goals & Desires—Not What but Why

Give me a story and give me a bed, Give me possessions,
Oh love luck and money, they go to my head like wildfire
,
It’s good to have something to live for you’ll find
, Live for tomorrow,
Live for a job and the perfect behind—High time!”

~Harriet Wheeler & David Gavurin—The Sundays (from Can’t Be Sure)

Thomas Cole, Voyage of Life - YouthCan’t Be Sure:  I’ve been conflicted and uncertain of late. It’s not so much that I’ve been unsure of what I want, although at times that’s part of it. It’s more that I’m not always sure why I want it anymore.

It’s the new year, and rather than making resolutions, I’ve been looking at my goals and asking myself some tough questions. In my writing mentor Cathy’s Rock Your Writing January newsletter she bid us to ask ourselves not just what we want but why we want it. Those of you who know me or follow this blog know I’ve long been seeking publication for my historical fantasy manuscripts. So that’s what I want, right? Publication. Seems simple enough. Ah sure, there are other goals for the year—polishing edit for book two, revision of book three, outline for a new project—but my primary goal is to seek representation and a traditional publication deal for book one. The really difficult question Cathy asked was the second part: Why?

I’ve paid plenty of lip-service to my gratitude to my muse (and my wife) for the opportunity for self-discovery and enlightenment bestowed by my writerly journey. Writing the books has been wonderful, and I’ve met so many wonderful folks along the way, including many of you reading. So isn’t that enough? What more could I want?

“And did you know desire’s a terrible thing,

The worst that I can find,

And did you know desire’s a terrible thing,

But I rely on mine.” ~Wheeler & Gavurin (from Can’t Be Sure)

Fame & Fortune: Would you believe me if I told you I’ve outgrown the desire for fame? Seriously, of all the selfish things I could wish for, fame would be at the bottom of the list. I’m not a fan of pop culture. If I pick up a People Magazine in the dentist office, I honestly can’t identify most of the celebrities pictured. I follow very few famous writers, I like alternative music, and I rarely go to movies. I don’t enjoy being put on the spot even at a large dinner party. I’ve done my share of public speaking, so it’s not fear. I just don’t care for that sort of attention. I’m certainly not driven to seek it.

Financial success is another subject. Everything seems to come back to money at some point. I understand that to make money as an artist, a certain amount of renown, or at least recognition, is required. In publishing, making money means selling books. To sell enough books, readers not only have to buy and like your books, they have to tell others about them. I understand this.

Even with an understanding of the workings of the free market, money is not a primary driving force in my quest for publication. I spent the first twenty-five years of adulthood focused on striving for fortune. Although I am far from financially independent, I have a roof over my head, food in the larder, and warm socks on my feet. I have a smart and successful wife who supports my artistic endeavors. Don’t misread me, I want my writing to make money. I’d like it to pay a fair share of our living expenses—for my artistic output to be self-sustaining of an artistic lifestyle. But the desire to make money does not adequately answer the question of why I want to be published.Thomas Cole, Voyage of Life - Manhood

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: I admit it, there is a part of me that occasionally says, “I’ll show them,”  in regard to getting published. Surely by now even my staunchest supporters have had their moments of doubt that I would get the job done. It’d be nice to have that tangible proof—evidence in the form of a physical book—that I am indeed a writer, that I made the grade.

And I must also admit that it’s nice to be praised and admired—respected, even. When you’ve spent years on a project, pouring so much of yourself into it, few things compare to the high of having someone tell you that they enjoyed it. Sure, it’s external validation. But I am human. Yes, for me, this one is insidious.

Although the quest for validation comes closer than fame or money as a driving force, I am doing my best to resist allowing it to be my motivation. There are many good reasons to self-publish these days, and they’re only getting more numerous. I even have a few of my own (genre mash-up, manuscript length), but for now my goal remains representation and a traditional deal. I’m convinced that, besides being stubborn, I am seeking this route because I want the books to be the best they can be—to have undergone a strenuous vetting process. At some point this might change, but I want to make sure it’s not for the wrong reasons (to thumb my nose at gatekeepers or in seeking an easier route to external validation).

I know that public validation, however sweet, would be fleeting. I know I have to find deeper meaning or I will end up perpetually, if cyclically, disappointed.

“But if desire, desire’s a terrible thing,

You know that I really don’t mind,

‘Cause it’s my life,

And though I can’t be sure what I want anymore,

It will come to me later.” ~Wheeler & Gavurin (from Can’t Be Sure)

Digging Deeper: Even if I can look in my heart and honestly reject the motivating factors above, I still haven’t answered the question. I had to go back to the beginning. I’ve mentioned here several times that my fantasy writing dreams go back to my school days. And yet those dreams were all but abandoned. In between my youthful notebook scribbling and starting the trilogy, I had another successful career—another life. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d all but abandoned reading fantasy during those years as well. During my years in business I read mostly nonfiction.

Then something changed. A series of tragic events led to epiphany and life-change. If you are interested in details, Erika Liodice interviewed me about it here. In asking myself what I wanted this year, I asked myself what I sought when I started writing again.

It’s gonna be so good now,
It’s gonna be so good
,
Can you see the lark ascending?

Oh so romantic, swept me off my feet,
Like some kind of magic
,
Like the light in It
aly,
Lost its way across the sea.”
~Kate Bush (from Prologue)

Thomas Cole, Voyage of Life - Old AgeMagic & Light: Tragedy always brings change. 9/11 and the death of loved ones had shaken me. In the months after our life-change I was seeking comfort and reassurance. I wanted to remind myself that life could be good again. I found solace in working with my hands again, and in spending time with my beloved. I found healing in music and art. And in books.

In the first winter after leaving our business, I wanted to revisit my favorites, and first on the list was The Lord of the Rings. I read voraciously that winter. I read or reread Guy Gavriel Kay, David Eddings, M.M. Kay and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I reveled in the glory, the friendship and the honor I found in the pages of historical fantasies. I felt renewed by the sacrifices for love, and experienced cathartic sorrow and release in the losses. In a real world that seemed unmistakably darker, I found light in fiction. I was healed, in no small way, by reading. I was reminded of the magic. And once again I wanted to be a part of making that magic.

Arcane Aspirations: I discovered an even bolder sort of magic in writing. The process of creating story has brought me to laughter and tears, and has filled my heart in an extraordinary way. There is mystery and majesty in the vocation I aspire to, and I am still but a humble apprentice. But I know I want to bring the magic and the light into the lives of others. This is what matters. I want to be worthy of being read. And to continue to grow so that I am worthy of it again and again. This is why I am seeking publication.

Happy New Year! May you all find your ‘whys’ as well as achieving your goals for 2013. Wishing you all writerly magic, as both practitioners and recipients.   

52 comments on “Goals & Desires—Not What but Why

  1. I loved this post, Vaughn. Such essential and important points you make! Thank you. 😉

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  2. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    Thanks for sharing this journey with us Vaughn. Many times as a writer, I find myself without words (silly, I know), but I’m grateful when another writer steps up and makes me say, “aha.” Good luck.

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  3. vpchandler says:

    Wow, you really dug deep for this post! Thanks for putting into words, what so many of us feel. 🙂

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    • I’m glad for the resonance. Writing it was an important part of the digging process for me–a way to sort it out for myself. If it helps others do some sorting, all the better! Thanks, Valerie!

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  4. brindle808 says:

    What a lovely, rich post, Vaughn. Thanks for sharing your journey – yourself with us. Wow!

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  5. jwthibodeau says:

    This is an excellent post, Vaughn, and as Valerie said, you really do put into words the way many of us feel. Thank you!

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  6. ddfalvo says:

    I understand.

    After reading Cathy’s post, I wanted to develop some sage-worthy response to our mentor’s challenge– but the fact is, aside from family, my life is positioned around two things and one of them is writing. It is a compulsion like nothing I have ever experienced. Despite “seasons” of interest in many things, writing appears to be (again aside from family) my one true love.

    After that– nothing else matters. The fact that authors make so little $$$, is disappointing but not why I write. The “love-you-then-hate-you” flash in the pan fame that’s so common these days (and reduces well-earned respect to dust)– no thanks.

    Don’t get me wrong. It would be fun (and terrifying) to be able to connect with peeps on a large scale and share my favorite topic (my world). An extra income would be so appreciated, especially since the economy took a dumpster dive that left our house without an outside income for four years. Respect matters, but only if you don’t measure it against all the things I’m not in a tabloid. Sigh. No wonder they call this ride a roller coaster.

    Haha! Socks again. 😛 Love the images!!!

    Parts of poem–“Comes the Dawn” by Veronica Shoffstall– comes to mind while pondering all of the above. I’ve changed words to reflect our author’s journey, but the intent is the same:

    “After a while you learn the subtle difference
    Between (embracing a moment) and chaining a (dream),

    And you learn that (success) doesn’t mean (fame)
    And company doesn’t mean security.

    And you begin to learn that (praises) aren’t contracts
    And presents aren’t promises,

    And you begin to accept your defeats
    With your head up and your eyes open
    With the grace of a (adult), not the grief of a child,

    And you learn to build all your roads on today
    Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
    And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

    After a while you learn…
    That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

    So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
    Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

    And you learn that you really can endure…

    That you really are strong

    And you really do have worth…

    And you learn and learn…”

    Life is immensely magical if you use your “eye of wonder”– you do. The fantasy world you’ve created shines with wondrous character. It reaches deep into the heart of the reader and plants seeds that continue to grow beyond the page. So– no worries for you. 😀

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    • ddfalvo says:

      Yikes. Sorry it’s so long!

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    • Wow, D! Such a beautiful and apt poem! Thanks so much for sharing it! It’s perfect here! What a great addition. I love “plant your garden and decorate your soul, Instead of waiting for someone to bring flowers.” So true that we have to find these things inside of ourselves, rather than waiting for the outside world’s approval or rejection. Your praise humbles me. Thank you. Can’t wait to see through your ‘eye of wonder’ by reading your work. 🙂

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  7. Great post, Vaughn. When it comes to your personal character, you definitely show rather than tell, and I appreciate that.

    I will say this (and perhaps I’m projecting) — finishing a project, and hearing that someone else enjoyed it, isn’t necessarily “external validation.”

    It sounds like fiction was healing for you, as I think it’s been for so many of us at various points. It gives us a source of comfort, and in a way, nourishment. Most importantly, it gives us a sense of connection.

    That’s what I think publication would provide for you, and what you’re ultimately looking for. Connection, with people who both need and want to hear your stories (even if they don’t know it yet) and people who will resonate deeply with what you’ve got to say, and how you say it.

    That’s also what I wish for you, my friend. I get the strong feeling this will be an amazing year. 🙂

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    • I can see a difference between external validation and connection, thanks for pointing it out. And I do want connection. I’ve already found quite a bit of it on this journey, but finding it through the work I think will be nourishing indeed.

      Thanks so much for asking the right questions, and (as always) making me dig deep. I know I’m that much closer in no small part due to your help and support, Cathy. Also thanks for your well-wishes. They mean a lot, as does your friendship. 🙂

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  8. deedetarsio says:

    Pull yourself up by your socks, man, you’ve already won! #OneDayAsGodIsMyWitnessIWillBeAsContemplativeAsVaughnButProbablyNot

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    • You make a good point, Dee. I’ve definitely won in the friends department (to say nothing of the hosiery department on the floor below). Thanks! #TakesOneToKnowOne #ContemplationIsSecondNatureWithYourFeetDanglingInThePool

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  9. I can identify with every single one of these, Vaughn. I have no desire for fame – I can think of nothing worse than having my every move scrutinized, or even my picture being splashed on the pages of a magazine.

    I’ve wanted to write and publish a novel since I was twelve years old. The fact that I haven’t yet (and I’m 37 now) does irk me at times, but I’ve come to realize that my fiction work is far more deeper and nuanced now than it has ever been. There’s a reason I haven’t been published yet – and that reason (to my thinking) is that I simply wasn’t the writer I was supposed to be then. And I have no doubt that I’ll continue to grow as a writer, but I really feel confident in what I’m writing now and that it is fit to be published.

    Anyway. Why do I write? I can’t do anything else. Why do I want to be published traditionally? Validation, yes. But to connect with people, too, and for me, this is the best way to do it.

    You’ve got your priorities straight and I have no doubt that you will reach your goal. You’re persistence WILL pay off. =D

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    • Thanks for weighing in and sharing, Melissa! I know what you mean about not being published because you weren’t ‘supposed’ to be then. I feel the same. I’m glad my work has had the time for growth (and I can clearly see the growth). Thanks for the well-wishes. I have a great feeling about you, too. I can see that you are doing all the right things, with the magazine and everything. Let’s root each other on through a memorable year! 🙂

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  10. fandina says:

    Ahh yes. The ‘why’ is always far more important than the ‘what’ and is often overlooked 🙂 Love this post.

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  11. liz says:

    Very thoughtful post Vaughn. I read it this morning and found myself pondering it for most of the afternoon. I think that sometimes joy has to be enough of a reason to pursue an activity, even in the face of fierce obstacles. I spent years and much money trying to improve my riding, for example, even though I was fairly certain I’d never compete at a high level. But the pleasure in the activity, and the joy I felt when I mastered a new skill, was enough. I admire your drive to hone your craft, and I hope you realize your goals.

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    • Joy is a word that came up often as I pondered this myself. I agree, such a worthy reason for pursuing a craft. I feel lucky to even be on the cusp of making a living at something that brings me such joy. Thanks for your riding example, and for bringing joy to the conversation, Liz! I’m glad the post got you thinking.

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  12. You are certainbly worthy of being read and listened to. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed several of your blogs and you do stirling work with WU. So thank you for what you’ve already acheived.

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  13. Jo Eberhardt says:

    “I reveled in the glory, the friendship and the honor I found in the pages of historical fantasies. I felt renewed by the sacrifices for love, and experienced cathartic sorrow and release in the losses. In a real world that seemed unmistakably darker, I found light in fiction. I was healed, in no small way, by reading.”

    This section of your wonderful post moved me to tears. I know what you mean. I’ve been there, more times than I care to count. When life is too dark and too heavy, fiction brings the light of hope and wonder into my heart and lets me see the darkness for what it truly is — a shadow that will pass in its own good time.

    I read to feel. To feel warmth and love and pain and despair and passion and humour. To immerse myself in worlds where integrity and honour define success. To experience good triumphing over the darkest of evils. And I cherish those feelings, those experiences, and hold them close to my heart as armour against the emotional slings and arrows of the world.

    I write to share my heart’s story. My pain and triumph, my love and fear, my uncertainty and my faith that the bad guys can never truly win as long as a single person is willing to stand against them. I write because in doing so, my heart is strengthened and my resolve renewed. And I share what I write in the hope that I can do for others what so many authors have done for me and set their minds and hearts free.

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    • What a lovely and moving comment, Jo. I love every thing about it–the armour against the emotional slings and arrows, and the sharing what other authors have done for you, setting their minds and hearts free. This is so well-expressed and obviously heartfelt. What a wonderful addition to my post! Thanks for sharing your gift for expression here. I’m honored to have moved you, but I must let you know, you’ve paid me back in full. Thanks for that as well. 🙂

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  14. Story Addict says:

    I think it’s very important to find your “why,” because that’s what’s gonna drive you. My why is because I love my story and I want it to be complete and the best it can be. It doesn’t need to be traditionally published because that wasn’t necessarily my intention in the first place — I mainly wanted to tell the story I wanted to tell and see it in print. Whereas with writing something else, if I know I’m doing it for the publishing houses, I’m definitely going to have a different perspective. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Vaughn, I hope you’re having an excellent 2013!

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    • Love of story is such a powerful driver, Margaret. Me too! As I say in the post, there are so many good reasons for indy pub now, and you bring up another: control over the product and staying true to one’s artistic vision. Good for you for knowing that was your route from the start. Every artist–indeed, every project–is going to be different, and I think this will only become more apparent moving forward. I already have a (mostly) finished product I can see as a good indy offering. Thanks for your thoughtful addition and perspective in the conversation, Margaret! 🙂 Wishing you an excellent ’13 as well!

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  15. I hear you on the self-searching, V, though I’m not always sure about why I want to do things until I’ve done them, and discovered they either buoyed or deflated me. I’ve been wrong so often about predicting what fulfills me in the long-term, I’m kind of down to what you and Liz describe: it’s about what fills me up or pulls me forward in the now. That needs to be enough, or the “then” simply won’t be.

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    • Great point, Jan, on the lack of predictability. I love how Liz brought the word ‘joy’ into the conversation. It was in my notes, but didn’t make the post. Find your way back to the joy of the process, even in revision work, etc, is important to me because the rest is so fleeting. I hope you’re finding your joy in the now, Boss. Time of our lives, right? 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

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  16. Blessed be your journey, Vaughn.

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  17. Heather Reid says:

    Vaughn, your depth and inspiration never cease to amaze me. You are able to put in to words, so eloquently, what other writers feel and aren’t sure how to express. I’m much the same as you. Writing isn’t about fame or money, it goes much deeper than that to me. It’s about connecting with others through a shared passion, through story. Money would be helpful, enough that I can write full time and keep food on the table, but it’s not what drives me. Thank you for provoking a question that all of us need to ask ourselves and being brave enough to share your journey.

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    • Thanks, Heather. I know you are undergoing a trial that I’ve yet to encounter, so I really appreciate your time and input here. I hope the post and comments offer you inspiration on this new phase of your journey. I’m sure taking the next steps is easier if you stay focused on that connection through shared passion you mention. Know I’m here for you. Godspeed! 🙂

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  18. MLSwift says:

    Hey Vaughn…I’ve seen you on WU and thought I’d pop in. You effectively and eloquently tapped on all the reasons I write. Great goals…and wonderful outlook. Nice to see your place.

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    • Hey ML! I’ve seen you over at WU, too. I appreciate the consistent insightfulness of your comments. I’m glad the post resonated with you. Thanks so much for stopping by. Be seeing you around the boards!

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  19. karenselliott says:

    I sometimes look at all the FILES I have created, some of them published, some of them put on the blog, many of them never shared with anyone. But I LIKE my stories and poetry. Hell, I LOVE them. If and when I publish (and oy, that’s getting closer!), I would like people to say, “Hey, she’s good.” But, if I think about myself on my death bed (hopefully many years from now), I’ll at least be able to say, “I wrote. I wrote well.” Respect – yes, I feel I’ve earned that, for my friendships, professional relationships, blogging stuff, editing stuff. It is a journey, Vaughn. I’m glad we’re on it together.

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    • I like that kind of peace of mind, Karen, to know deep down we’ve done our best, and put ourselves out there, overcoming fear and obstacles to stay true to the art. You’re right, it is a journey, and a helluva good one (most of the time). I’m glad we’re on it together, too! Thanks, Karen!

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  20. Nicole L. Bates says:

    What a great question and, as usual, an eloquently stated response (by you of course!) I don’t ever question why I want to write. That part has never been an issue, I just do, but pondering why I’m pursuing publication, that’s a whole different situation. Sometimes I feel like I’m (still) working toward publication simply because it is not in my nature to quit. I’ve started on this path, I’ve told people I’m going to do it, so this is what I must do. It’s a challenge, something to strive for. The achievement of a dream is generally just the gravy. It’s the getting there that really provides the nourishment for the soul and the measure of one’s character. You have an artist’s soul and amazing character! One day I just know you’ll taste the gravy. 🙂

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    • I hadn’t really questioned the writing much, either, Nicole. Funny how digging into the ‘why’ of the writing brought me back to the ‘why’ of the seeking publication. I think that’s the core of it, to strive to release what’s inside us that needs to come out. And you’re so right, the rest is gravy! I’ve got the same feeling about you, that you are bound for success. (Plus we’re both just a bit stubborn when it comes to quitting, right? 🙂 ). Thanks, Nicole! Have a great weekend!

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  21. Tonia Marie Houston says:

    Vaughn, thank you. You have a beautiful soul and and a voice like the lark Kate sings about- you bring light with careful strokes to the souls of writers around you. I could wax poetic for paragraphs, but simply stated, this is beautiful.
    Sometimes, we needlessly ply ourselves with questions and doubts that don’t matter, when “why” is almost always the right question. If anyone is on the road to publication and a dedicated readership, it would be you, my friend. Best to you for the New Year.

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  22. I love this line, “In a real world that seemed unmistakably darker, I found light in fiction.” Books have always pulled me along, convinced me that there was magic in stories. I’m sure that’s at least partly why I write as well. Though I also love what Jan says in her comment about discovering her motives as she goes along, or sometimes after the fact. I can be too programmed, too set on figuring everything out, crossing all the dots. I’m learning that it’s often better for me to follow the impulse and see what happens.

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    • I agree, it’s often a good thing to just follow the impulse. So much magic can happen as story unfolds. It’s part of the lure of being a pantser. I have to find a balance on future projects. Sorting out the pantsing afterward has been no simple task, but I never want to lose the magic of discovery, either. I’m glad the post and comments got you thinking. Good luck following impulse, Lisa! Thanks!

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  23. Great post, Vaughn. Like Cathy said above, fiction can be healing. I think that’s part of the “why” I write. But, your post certainly encourages me to look even more into my reasons.

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    • Thanks, Christi! So glad the post encouraged exploration. I feel better for having given it all some thought. So much of this gig is a tug between the ears, isn’t it? Wishing you more healing, sound reasons, and a very successful year! 🙂

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  24. […] words of wisdom, and my own response to it. Please click through to Vaughn’s blog and read Goals & Desires — Not What But Why. I’m certain it will touch you as much as it touched […]

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  25. diannegray says:

    This is an amazing post, Vaughn. I began writing for a specific reason and occasionally I need to go back to that reason when I lose my way. This post came at a good time to remind me once again 😉

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    • Hi Dianne. Nice to have you here. I obviously had to remind myself. I’m sure the day will come when I need to reread this post. Thanks so much! I’m glad you found the post helpful, too! 🙂

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  26. […] a Facebook link that led me to this post by Jo  Eberhardt written in response to one from Vaughn Roycroft. You need to go read both. They touched on goals and desires and not “what” those were, […]

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