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People ask me how I could have written fourteen unpublished novels and not given up.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 published.
Laura Munson 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. www.lauramunsonauthor.com