by Laura Munson
People ask me how I could
have written fourteen unpublished novels and not given up. I have a
simple answer and it’s not pretty: obsession. Writing is my way of
life, and sometimes my way to life. It’s my practice, my
meditation, my prayer. I’ve chosen fiction because it has elbow
room. Even though fiction is distilled reality—realer than
real—there is still the chance to climb out of your shoes and engage
in the act of empathy, which I believe is at the core of every
writer’s heart. Empathy, coupled with the curiosity to put empathy
into motion, and of course the love of words.
But what if those words
aren’t read? What if the trajectory is not met? Does the writing
matter? I spent twenty years trying to find and then dwell in the
intersection of heart and craft and mind that is writing, but I
wanted to connect with the busy world passing me by. Like an
evangelist on the side of the road holding out stacks of pamphlets.
Agents. Book editors. Magazine editors. Pitches. Queries. No
takers. Maybe a few here and there, but nothing that launched a
career or paid the bills. Encouraging “rejection” letters. But no
real indication that anything I’d written had actually landed in
someone’s lap, never mind their hearts.
My Author’s Statement,
which I wrote years ago and hangs above my desk reads, “I write to
shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide
relief for myself and others.” How on earth was that ever going to
happen if I couldn’t get my books published? It’s not like anyone
had asked me to be a writer. I simply felt like there was no
other way for me to be a human on this earth.
I was bereft; suffering
intensely. Even though I did my best to healthily process the
heartbreak of rejection, it was tearing me up inside. How many
times can a person read the line “This does not meet our needs at
this time” and not take it personally? Not hear that you’re bad and
wrong and destined to fall between the cracks? I knew deeply that I
had to start practicing a different perspective if I was to stay
afloat, even if it meant surrendering my career goals, and maybe
even my Author’s Statement.
The joy had to be in the
creation. It had to start and potentially end, in my experience of
creation. What I could control. That was it. I had to
embrace the idea that the end of suffering comes with the end of
wanting. I could be miserable, or I could I start working with
surrender; to commit to being free of suffering.
I chose the latter.
So I made a rule: no more
publishing attempts for a year. I started mixing things up.
Switched to non-fiction, writing my truth, raw and real. Practiced
empathy toward my own self. The result was incredibly
freeing. It turned out I had wounds to heal that perhaps had gotten
in the way of my fiction in the first place, and that my career
drive had muddied. Non-fiction was a kind of good medicine for
me, and I swallowed it whole.
And when I returned to
fiction, it indeed was different. There was a new kindness toward
myself. I’d spent so long feeling kicked around by the publishing
world, that I’d let it infect my “third eye.” Now there was
permission to play on the page. A purity and power like I was
finally stepping into my destiny as a writer, unencumbered by what
the future held. No one could take that away from me.
It was then that I
re-visited the publishing world, got an agent, and things started
changing. Stunning how things work when you are being responsible
for your own happiness.
In all this, my husband’s
job fell apart. And one day, he announced that he wanted out of our
marriage. I told him I felt he was in a crisis from basing his
self-worth on things outside his control, namely his career
success—something I recognized only too well. I suggested a
personal walk-about instead, which he opted for in a sometimes
not-so-kind manner. But I knew that my job was to let go, not just
of my career success, but now my marriage. I didn’t engage in the
drama. I didn’t take his harsh words personally. I’d known too
many years of pain from publishing world rejection. I wasn’t going
to let rejection take me down any longer.
Instead I chose to write
my way through this crisis, practicing this new sort of inner
freedom and using my new-found non-fiction voice. My writing life
had given me the map. He was giving me the territory.
We can’t control life.
But we can control our thoughts, what we create, and what we
surrender. It was in surrender that I lived during that season of
my life, gained back a loving partner… and finally got a book
is something of a publishing phenomenon. After writing fourteen
novels for which she could not find a publisher, she wrote an
article that crashed the New York Times’ s website.
Forty-eight hours later she had a publishing contract for her memoir,
This Is Not The Story You Think It Is.