By Laura Munson (in several incarnations)
Okay. You know those words that you fling into the ocean and the sinking sun every time you’re standing on an eastern facing beach? Those sometimes spoken, sometimes thought words that come out like a beggar’s prayer? I know you’re kind of embarrassed by them, but let’s just fess up. As an exercise. Please help me be published to wide acclaim.
Well guess what? After 20 years and 14 books…it happens. And I’m here to tell you…it’s not the story you think it is. Your writer friend was right when he said “The only difference between being published and not being published is being published.”
But don’t I feel magnetic and energized and fabulous? Isn’t it the most fun of my entire life? Don’t I jump up and down? Doesn’t it feel like Christmas?
I’m a bit afraid to tell you. But I feel that I must. It was fun. For one entire second, when your agent called and told you there was an offer on your book. You were on your treadmill, and you took your feet off the conveyor belt and you stood quiet and said, “Hang on. I just need a moment.” And she waited. And you cried. And that was it. You went back to your fast walk and your agent went back to business. The fun moment wasn’t so fun. You took it and you wept.
What about all the readings and the fans, and the media and the limos, and seeing all my old friends? What about going to all those cities and speaking in all those beautiful rooms and meeting all those amazingly inspiring people? Wasn’t that fun?
Wasn’t I happy?
Not exactly. You felt like you’d ditched the part of you that you knew and trusted and loved and had worked so hard to build inside yourself. The writer. You felt out of balance and you missed writing. You missed the work. There wasn’t time for the work. You were so set on the idea that you had one shot at it. One shot at putting yourself on the map as a published, successful author. And if it meant that you packed on 10 pounds and went loose in the gut, and didn’t eat breakfast, or even lunch sometimes, or play with your kids, or if you lost out on weekends and sleep and social engagements…it was a small price to pay for being a country on that map. Plus you needed the money. But it was always about more than the money. It was about living a myth. Keeping it alive. Because surely the myth would somehow save you.
That’s really fucking sad.
Ah…but here’s the secret, and it’s good news if you look at it properly: Ready?
I’m not so sure.
Tough. Repeat after me: There is no such thing as success. I’m here to tell you. It’s a lie. An illusion. An interpretation of events that feels mostly like total shit, because the self behind the ego knows the truth.
I feel like throwing up. If this is true…how on earth did I finally understand it?
Glad you asked.
One day you were lying in bed on a Saturday morning, at home, before the family woke up. You hadn’t been awake more than three minutes when you realized you had a grimace on your face like you were being pinched, and your shoulders were up by your ears, tight and braced. You were worrying about a reading in Connecticut that was at a private club where 150 women had pre-paid $75.00 which included a signed copy of your book, and lunch. You were worrying that they’d be disappointed that they spent all that money just to see you. You were worrying about the ten pounds you’d gained and what you’d wear—what looked authorly and had success written all over it. You were sure that you’d be the worst dressed woman there. And what if you found one of your books in the Ladies room afterwards on the back of a toilet like someone had decided they didn’t want it after all, after seeing you speak in that horrible outfit? And geez—don’t published authors have enough money to hire a personal trainer? What a let down you were. Who did you think you were?
And then you started to smile. And to laugh. That event already happened! Almost a year ago!!! People loved you. They told you so. They bought extra books for friends and family and their book groups. And yes, you did find a book on the back of a toilet in the Ladies room, but you gave it to the woman at the front desk and she wept she was so thankful. She’d heard about your book and wanted desperately to read it but couldn’t afford a $24.95 hardback. So there. You were worrying about something that was not only ancient history, but was also a smashing success. And you realized you were holding all those speaking engagements in you still. Hoarding them like you’d need them for later should the end of the world come, aka the end of your career, and you needed ammo, fuel, cover, proof.
And so you decided to re-live each one of your readings. Starting right at the beginning. All 50 some odd of them. You needed to go through them and remember what there was to remember, without judgment, but with a seeking mind and an open heart—yeah, I probably shouldn’t wear a long sleeve shirt and a long skirt if it’s going to be 94 degrees with 100% humidity and the reading is outside under a tent! Ya live and learn. Maybe it’s okay to omit the swear word in your book the next time your reading is in a CHURCH, but oh well. I’m pretty sure God’s heard it before. You needed to unpack that suitcase you’d been hauling around with you all over creation, hot little roller wheels and all, and put it to rest. Even if it took you all morning. And it nearly did.
And for the first time in a long time, you breathed a fresh free unencumbered sigh of relief.
Wow. That sounds exhausting.
Maybe so. But you’re at the beginning of this adventure. You have time to change your story. You don’t have to spend years tormenting yourself, unpublished or published, telling yourself that you need to prove yourself. Because you proved what you thought there was to prove, and it didn’t solve anything. It didn’t heal anything. It didn’t erase anything. It didn’t change anything about how you feel and how you fear and how you love. All that proving—yes, that is exhausting. And you need energy to live your life the way you want to live it.
All that happened is this: you wrote something. Somebody liked it enough to put cardboard on each side of it and let a lot of people know about it. And you got paid for it. And you are known for it. Otherwise, it’s just the same as ever: getting back to work on what you know and trust best. The writing.
A hearty p.s.
I am about to go back out on the road for the better part of April and May (schedule is here–come say hi!)…and I have decided that the real reason it’s not all the fun the child in you had hoped for, is because of the attachment to having it be that mythic success. So it is in letting go, that I journey out on the road this time. The same philosophy and practice that I write about in my book, but have only recently understood how to put to practice in my post-published life. And something tells me…IT’S GONNA BE A BLAST!!!)