Laura Munson, the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, discusses rejection, the power of perseverance, and the hunger it all takes.
I love She Writes. It is such an important community for writers and one I wish I’d had when I started writing books in 1988. I’ve been writing novels in a mercenary take-no-prisoners fashion since then, working odd jobs and doing freelance to keep my writing life central to my existence. Even with kids and a husband. Writing is my way of life. Sometimes it’s my way to life. My oxygen. My practice. My mediation. My prayer.
In my twenties, I dreamed I’d hit it big, and then I got to learn the hard way that it’s all about finding that intersection of heart and craft and mind that is writing. And that takes some time. And it takes a lot of work. I don’t necessarily believe in MFA programs. I had an author tell me a long time ago that they’re over-rated. “Do you write every day? Do you have a writing group? Do you read all the time, and treat those books as textbooks, underlining, and re-reading? Do you have writer friends? If the answer is yes, you don’t need an MFA. Just write.”
And so I did. I drove a flower delivery truck, worked as an office temp, nannied, tended a lady’s orchids, waitressed, cocktail waitressed, was a sous chef at a café. I did whatever I could to make my life a funnel that all came out through my “pen.” After 14 books, I finally got one published. Only it wasn’t a novel. It was a memoir I wrote during a hard time in my marriage. It hit the big time-- a New York Times
bestseller, Book of the Month Club best of 2009, International bestseller, I went on a national book tour, and did major national media including Good Morning America and others…and I’m here to tell the tale.
I want to help writers from my deepest depths. I want to help writers know that there is power in perseverance. I want them to know not to give up even when they are so very close. Even if that means that they take 300 pages out of a 500 page novel, re-write another 200 for a big time NYC editor, only to get rejected in the end. Which is what happened to me. And something a lot like it with another novel.
You need a platform. That’s what your agent will tell you. Mine was the Modern Love column of the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times
. I took my memoir and condensed it into an essay. It got accepted after many rejections from that column. It turns out that the world wanted its message: empowerment, personal responsibility, surrender. The responses crashed the New York Times
website. I got my book deal two days later.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about rejection. First from writing. Then from my spouse. You can let it take you down, or not. I’m interested in the latter. I learned all about rejection by being rejected over and over as a writer. I learned how to not take those rejection letters personally. I learned how to not let things outside my control define my happiness. I learned how to focus on what I can create, what I can edit, what I can submit, and then to…just…let…go and get back to creating. That is where the power lies. That is where the freedom lies. I want writers to set their minds and hearts on that power and freedom, and together, to create a new paradigm.
Let’s get rid of the story of the tortured artist. Let’s create a new story. Wherein we write what we must with all our might, with compassion, empathy, and vulnerability. And then let’s practice what it is to let go of the rest. To return to the present moment and all its possibilities if only we just receive. I have a quote on my wall: Breathe. Believe. Receive. It’s all happening. Even on the worst days, I hold it dear.
A famous writer friend once told me, “The only difference between being published and not being published, is being published.” It drove me crazy. Easy for him to say. But it’s true. There is no destination with art. You simply create something, it’s perceived, and you wake up the next day with the same hunger, the same pressure, the same call to empathy, and create something else. It’s all in the act of creation.