Tag Archives: perseverence

I’d love to speak in your neck of the woods!

Sooo…some shameless self-promotion:  if your business, school, social group, club, library etc. is looking for a speaker who is all about empowerment…pick me!  Here’s the scoop:   http://www.apbspeakers.com/speaker/laura-munson

LAURA MUNSON

A writer for over 20 years, Laura Munson is the author of theNew York Times and international best-selling memoir, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. Passionate about “finding the intersection of heart and mind and craft on the page,” Munson shares a story that explores marital crisis and imparts a message of empowerment, the importance of living in the present, and the necessity of claiming responsibility for one’s own happiness – no matter what is going on in life.

It all began when Munson penned an essay, “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” for the “Modern Love” column of The New York Times in 2009. Stunned by the firestorm reaction she received, Munson emerged as the face behind an essay that ignited dinner talk, office chat, and book groups around the globe. A short version of a memoir she had written during a rough time in her marriage, the essay touched people with its powerful honesty. And they wanted more. After having written for two decades, having completed 14 novels, and having endured countless rejections, Munson had a book deal within 48 hours.  Her memoir has been published in nine countries.

Munson’s work has appeared in the New York Times ”Modern Love” column, the New York Times Magazine ”Lives” column, O. MagazineWoman’s DayRedbook, Good Housekeeping, More magazine, Shambhala Sun, The Sun, and Big Sky Journal, as well as on HuffingtonPost.com and through many other media outlets. She has been on two national book tours with appearances on Good Morning America, The Early Show, London’s This Morning, Australia’s Sunrise, various NPR stations, and many other television and radio shows, including Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Hay House radio program.

TOPICS

How to Turn Crisis Into Personal Freedom

How to Get What You Want by Getting Out of Your Own Way

The Power of Story in Times of Crisis

Please call 800.225.4575 or contact The American Program Bureau for more information on this speaker’s speech topics.

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Letter to a Young Blogger

Recently a blogger wrote to me asking for advice, feeling desperate and raw the way that every writer feels. I get a lot of letters, for which I am deeply thankful, and have learned that I have to be economic with my response time in a committment to finishing my current novel. I started writing her what I assumed would be a short but honest letter, hoping to find just the right words…and realized that what I had to share was an old fashioned, long, heart-in-the-hand, letter. And as I opened up to that and my words increased, more and more impassioned, I realized that I really was writing to myself and all writers everywhere. I’d like to share it with you, with her permission. And likewise, I’d like to share her response. Hope it helps. yrs. Laura

12/11/10

Dear, Nikki.

I know people don’t use “Dear” anymore in emails, but to you, from me, sisters in words, it is “dear.” Thank you for reaching out to me in your very candid and honest letter. It takes guts to reach out to published authors, especially when their work has touched you. I have a whole file of letters I’ve written over the years to my favorite author, but was too shy to send them to him. Finally one day I exploded in desperation and wrote 20 years of writer’s woe into a letter, and sent it to his editor thinking he’d never in a million years actually get it. But it felt somehow good just to know that I’d finally spoken my truth to the person I most respect in the literary world: and that was that I was terrified I’d never get published, that I knew I was a good writer and had written good books, and that I needed help. He emailed me a few weeks later. We ended up meeting for drinks that spring in a small border town in Arizona where I was camping with my family. We ended up becoming friends. And he ended up putting in a good word to his editor for me. The book deal fell apart anyway. Writers can’t really help writers get published. Even wickedly famous ones such as he. But we can share our feelings and we can make suggestions and we can help guide one another.

You said you weren’t sure why you wrote me, only that you were so ready to launch your career that you were afraid of being “Over done.” “Burnt to a crisp.” That’s to me a way of saying, “Help. In any way you can. Just help. I can’t be alone in this one more second.” A cry for help—not necessarily on-the-ledge kind of help, but maybe on the soul’s edge. And all you really want is an echo that says there was a meeting point out there in the world that heard you and bounced it back to you in a game of mystic catch. You’ve been witnessed. You are not alone. You’ve been met. I have some things I’d like to say about that and I hope it finds you, if nothing else, met.

I so deeply understand where you are in all this. Having so much work and wanting it to be read and wanting to be respected for it, and wanting to be paid for it. It feels so helpless and hopeless– like you’re working so hard to mine your life and bridge human hearts with honesty, empathy, compassion…and yet nobody really sees you or cares. Like you’ll somehow fall between the cracks. Any of this ring a bell? (sorry for all the mixed metaphors, but we writers need lifelines—basic full frontal flung floatation– and well-worn metaphors can sometimes feel like just that!) As you know, I’ve written many books that are not published. Not all good ones. And not all ones which I’ve submitted to my agent. In fact, I’ve really only submitted four or five, and she’s only shopped so far three of them. In three years of hard-at-it submissions, her New York City hardened fist to the pavement, only one of them got published. It was crushing.

I’d been told many times that getting an agent was harder than actually getting a book published, so when I finally landed mine, I had high hopes. Even in this economy. Even with the publishing industry in shambles. I still had hope because I had someone who believed in me even when I didn’t. After both books were considered seriously by two different big time editors, both of whom were willing to work with me on the sly to get my manuscripts in the best possible shape so they could come into their editorial staff meetings guns blazing…and after both were still in the end rejected, my agent decided she wouldn’t even send my work out any more. I needed a platform. I’d sent her my memoir, the one that just got published, the one that ended up on the New York Times bestseller list, and she said, “I’m sorry. I’m just not sending your work out. You’re too good of a writer to keep falling through the cracks. You need a platform.”

So there I was, feeling completely hopeless. Because wasn’t having a top notch New York agent in the first place, sitting on three polished and what I considered to be powerful manuscripts, proof enough of my writing moxie? How did a girl prove herself even more than that? “By getting into the New Yorker or the New York Times,” she said. Ugh. I’d tried that. I’d failed at that. I honestly had never felt more bereft. Never in 20 years have I had writer’s block, or faced a blank page without butterflies in my stomach. Never had I lost a lick of hope. That day, I got off the phone and put my head down on my computer, and wept. I really, for the first time, saw clearly that my career, at 42 years old, very well might never launch. The ship wouldn’t come in. I’d be bobbing in cold waters so tired of clutching that life preserver, that I finally might just let go, and become fish food. I felt myself, for the first time in my life, beginning to let go.

And something miraculous happened. In a flicker of a moment, sort of how they say that you see your life flash before you just before death, I had this deep warm feeling of knowing. I’d write the short version of my memoir, the one my agent wasn’t going to shop, and I’d send it to the New York Times Modern Love column. I’d just had two rejections from them in tandem the week prior. At least I was fresh in the editor’s mind. So in an hour, I wrote the essay. It flowed out the way I suppose one’s last breath flows. One long rattle. And I sent it, left the house to pick up the kids, and forgot about it. That was going to be the way things went from now on. I would have to train myself to forget about it. To take the future out of my brain and heart. I didn’t know what that meant. Would I stop writing? I couldn’t fathom that death, so I let it go. And it was just me alone in that sea. The alternative was to thrash. And I couldn’t do that any longer. I was too tired of thrashing.

The next morning, I got an email: “This one, we’re going to take.” It was from the editor of the Modern Love column. And you probably know the rest of the story. That essay was the number one most read article on The New York Times website for weeks. The responses crashed the site. It went viral all over the world. I heard from ministers, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, mothers, wives, husbands, fathers, sisters, brothers…you name it. People wanted to hear that particular message which was simple but hard to apply, especially to a marital crisis, which was my essay’s entry point. The message was: you can find freedom in crisis by focusing on the present moment, getting rid of the destructive voices in our heads that have us reacting in a place of fear, to love those voices into submission, to take responsibility for your own happiness no matter what’s going on in your life. To let go and just be with the pain of life, using the pain of life, breathing through the pain of life. Simple. I’d applied this philosophy to my marriage, and now I was finally applying it to my writing life. And that’s when everything happened.

Now, a year later, I’m sitting here on a Saturday morning in December with my husband and children skiing, trying to work on a novel. I’d like a novel to be published next. I worry about being pigeon-holed as a memoirist. It’s the novel that is my deep love; the craft at which I’ve been “hearkening and hammering,” as Rilke said (who wrote his own “dear” letters to another writer), for all these years. And I find myself putting this philosophy to play all over again. My inner voice wants me jumping through hoops and walking across coals. The dread blank page. The likelihood of a novel getting published in this industry. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe it was just a rogue nerve that I hit the way my anesthesiologist did when he was giving me my epidural before my cesarean. “I’ve hardly ever done that,” he said. And like you, I’m asking those old questions: what if this really is just my three minutes. And the clock is ticking. Never mind the simple fact that we need money, badly. To keep our house. To regain health insurance and life insurance and pay our bills after years of career failure. I honestly don’t know how we’re going to pay for Christmas this year. And the kids with such long lists.

I think that the single most dashing aspect of being a writer is feeling so alone. So the help I can give you is not the lifeline, but the simple act of catching the echo, your voice to mine, mine to yours. Even though my book has been more successful than I ever dreamed as I sat here at this desk a few summers ago writing my way through a hard time in my life, not even all that sure that I’d one day submit it to my agent…I still face what you face. The loneliness, the fear, the sinking hope. I wasn’t sure my marriage would make it through that crisis and I wasn’t going to give it an even larger burden if in fact it did. But I wrote with all the compassion and honesty I could, responsible to a rule I made to myself and that was: not to vilify my husband. Not to play victim. Not to expose things beyond what felt necessary to the memoir. In the end, my agent sent out the book. In the end I got that long awaited book deal. The book tour. The national television. The NPR interviews. The positive reviews. The fans. The pay check. The New York Times bestseller list. The opportunity to have written something that is helping people. All the things I’d dreamed of.

And here I am, having spent a year of my life running around creation talking to people about that book and that time in my life, trying so hard to give people hope, especially writers. And I’m here to say that the whole reality of success is a myth. There is no real destination there. You’re just “seen and heard” that’s all. And it feels so good after feeling so unseen and unheard for so long. But it also feels disorienting and a little wrong. Like you’re really supposed to be back in that office, staring at the blank page, doing the work. Not being a travelling salesperson/social networking whore/motivational speaker. As another writer friend so perfectly put it a year ago, “Enjoy this initial bliss. In a matter of months, your cherry will be popped and you’ll realize that you are at the end of the day, not a writer, but a businesswoman, caught in a machine.” I didn’t want to believe that she was right. To a degree, she was. But no one can take away the writing. In that place, I completely trust myself. In that place, I am floating, surrendered, riding the waves, not thrashing, not a bit of future in me, watery dark ocean’s bottom or helicopter rescue.

So it’s my pleasure to respond to you and share what I’ve learned, having gone to the other side so suddenly this year. The “platform” I’ve wanted most of all is the one from which to help writers persevere. I’ve wanted this desperately for a long time. Somewhere along the line I turned around and realized that I was an expert on the subject of perseverance. I knew how to do one thing well: start books and finish them. Start essays and finish them. Start short stories and finish them. I wasn’t as good with submissions, and that was part of not yet wanting that “cherry” to be popped. Something deep in my psyche knew that I had to learn my craft. To understand that intersection of mind and heart and craft that is writing. To build that body of work. And yes, now the business of it is upon me. I’m trying to look at it like a game rather than a tragedy about to happen. I’m trying to look at it as a numbers game, or a pie chart, or something simple and practical. I write something and I submit it to these three places and I forget about it. And if I do that on Monday and Tuesday, and spend Wednesday on blog posts and researching grants and residencies, then I have Thursday, Friday and part of the weekend to work on my novel. Simple. If I strip it down, moment by moment, and not get stuck under the miasma of “what if.”

As my favorite writer said to me at that bar in southern Arizona, “Somebody has to get published and why not you.” So I pass that on to you. You are not alone. And you are alone. And that’s not bad news. You are a part of a collective sisterhood and brotherhood of writers who trust themselves best at the intersection, otherwise why else would they put themselves through this writing life. All those blank pages. All that rejection. I wish for you, and for all of us, that flicker of a moment when we finally let go, and get to the depths of compassion, empathy, and yes craft…send off our work surrendered, and somewhere have it received, met, echoed back in e. e. cummings world of Yes. Yes is a world. May we know it as writers, first deep in ourselves. And then from the world.

I wish you all the very best, Nikki.

Yrs.

Laura

Here is her response:
Hi Laura,

The other day I tried to compose an email to you, and it was a challenge to even do this. I was unable to write anything, and then a couple days ago I woke up and realized why. My soul will not allow me write from the place of ego- you know that small, weak place of wanting to write for attention and following and publication and approval. There was a time I only wrote for me, and as I have moved out to share my writing and wanting to make a living from it, my ego perks up its head and pushes me with its demands. It is wonderful to realize I cannot write, at least well, for those reasons. I have to write for something deeper.

I am so glad I reached out to you, and again I thank you for your letter. It will be something I keep and read when I need that support. I am grateful it inspired a letter to all writers and I would be honored to have my name displayed. There is so much for us to learn within the writing process. Recently I began writing another blog dedicated to this and it helps, as you say, warm up for the writing day ahead.

Thank you for saying my blog is my platform. This brought such relief. And I am receiving more requests for potential money making with ads on my blog and like you I want to maintain integrity. As far as blogher, I signed on with them a couple of years ago. I have had a good experience with them. The only issue is when I change my blog design I have to make sure the ad is near the top. They have requirements of where the ad should be. I can’t remember how I signed up with them, but I am sure the site walks you through. I know you can choose what kind of advertising you want, and if there is a company you are opposed to, you can customize settings. There will be an html code to add and then it should appear. They will also share your posts, which helps get more people to your site.

Thank you, honestly for being the echo, and holding the space of my desperation. This, especially in these times, is essential. I, like you, hold our vulnerable moments the most sacred and we need people to hold that space for us, and honor it. We also need people to show us by their example we can persevere and do what we love. I think what was most valuable to me in your letter is knowing even with your success you have not arrived. I shared a story in my local paper- and it speaks to this- recently I climbed a steep mountain, at least for me coming from Minnesota, it was steep, and while I climbed I had moments of terror, where I just didn’t think I was going to make it, but what kept moving me forward was wanting to see the view from the top. I also wanted to know I could make it. When I arrived, there was not the breathtaking view I imagined or was there the path I had hoped for to bring me back down so I wouldn’t have to roll down the way I came up. Instead there was another climb ahead and these tiny flies buzzing around my head.

My dad shares this message with me- everywhere we go there is the Buddha and flies. I found both, and more ground to cover. I feel honored to walk into this possibility of success holding this knowledge. As you say success is not a destination. It is an illusion. Even you, with your best seller still goes to her writing space and climbs another mountain. And now you are stronger.

I do hope we will stay in touch. I, too wish you all the very best. We are here to express everything that is our potential- that world of “YES.” Isn’t it wonderful to know and experience, especially when shared.

Namaste, Laura.

Nikki

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Hard Frost. Slow Dance. (For Author Magazine)

I am pleased to be regularly contributing to Author Magazine online. Here’s a piece about wintertime and the muse….

This is the time of year when the muse is hungry. Starved by a summer in Montana where the physical world bullies you to come out into it and join the dance that leads with mountains, and twirls with rivers, and rests in lakes—a spent tango. And we find ourselves in fall. The physical dance over. Time to go home in the dark. There is a lot of darkness now.

This morning was the first hard frost. I could see it on the roof by moonshadow, silver and glinting off shingles. It was confirmed by the first light over the ridge… to read more click here

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Great Advice for Writers

This piece on NPR really spoke to me. Gladwell’s “10,000 hours rule” in his book Outliers: The Story of Success can indeed turn you into an overnight success, ten years in the making. Don’t give up! Yrs. Laura

Click here to listen

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The Traveling Writer Blog

Here’s a Q&A I did for the great Blog: The Traveling Writer by Alexis Grant. She takes an interesting social media spin in her questions. Check it out by clicking here.

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Daily Tips for Writers

I have been writing these tips daily on Twitter http://twitter.com/Lauramunson Hope they help.

Be intentional. Get to know your “third eye.” And don’t let life infect it. Yes we mine our lives, but writing is a pause.

When people ask what you do, say: I AM A WRITER. Practice saying it in front of the mirror!

Find something physical that requires the same sort of awareness you use in your writing and try to do it every day.

When you are rejected, you haven’t done something wrong. It just wasn’t right for them. Think of it as a numbers game.

Go at it with joy, not fighting and muscling and kicking. Go at it like it’s already there. You’re just lifting the lid.

Don’t believe in writer’s block. It doesn’t exist for you. What MUST you write? You know the answer. Now write it.

Write what you must and write it with compassion.

Don’t let Social Media interrupt your focus. Use it as a tool and be grateful for community. And know when to unplug.

Do something sacred before you begin. A cup of tea. A deep breath. Lie on the floor with your eyes closed. A beginning.

Don’t take rejections personally. Take a breath, and send it out again. GOOD LUCK!

Use your pearls as they come. No need to stockpile them. More will come.

Challenge yourself to be flexible. Write not just on your mother ship computer, but on a laptop, outside, on a legal pad

When in doubt, ask. You have to ask. For connections, advice, help, time, space, critique, support. Ask.

Read books like textbooks, underline, comment in margins, date your comments. Don’t lend them out. Refer to them often.

Don’t take outlines too seriously. Your characters are your guides.  Sherpas, even.  Follow them.

Love your characters. Even the villians.  They all have something to teach you.  But you have to love them into it.

When you give your working drafts to friends to read, make sure you agree to the shape of critique you want and deadline.

If you don’t want to write a scene, maybe it doesn’t belong in your book. Trust your instincts. Be willing to re-route.

If you find you are having a hard time balancing between your writing and social media, consider getting two computers. One cyber. One not.

In the spirit of Twitter, keep it lean. Exile adverbs. They suck the action dry.

 Consider your reader and ask yourself: why do they need my writing? Writing is an act of empathy. It’s not all yours.

 Writing is your meditation, your prayer, your way of life, and sometimes your way TO life.  At least it is for me.

If your loved ones don’t read your stuff, consider it a compliment.They want to know you as they know you.Not always on the page.

I love hearing from writers who love their work.  We need to be hungry for our own work.  Champions.  Stewards.  Even when the publishers don’t agree.  

Clean your office. Clutter bring chaos. A clean space really helps with the blank page.

Be willing to learn something about yourself on the page. It’s okay to “tell” on yourself. It will help people and you.

What is your piece about? Practice saying it outloud on a walk, in 3 minutes or less. It may morph as you go along. That’s OK.

Writing comes from sacredness, silence, and sometimes secrecy. Oftentimes best not to share what you are writing about til it’s done.

I find that writers who are writing are kind to one another. Not competetive. Let’s keep this kindness alive and well.

Hemingway couldn’t write in an airplane and either can I. Best to know your limits as long as they’re not avoidances.

Be leary of writers who spend a lot of time trying to protect their work. It’s only moving through you to begin with.

Be leary of writers who do more reading than writing. Or who are always doing conferences. True seeking is most often solitary.

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Morning Light

You know when the cloud lifts and the light comes in? When things are vivid and asking you to smile and go easy and say thank you? Annie Lamott says these are her two favorite prayers, “Help me help me help me,” and “Thank you thank you thank you.” I’m not sure how it is that we shift from the first to the second, but this morning, after a month of Help me’s, there it was: Thank you.

I’ve spent the last 20 years when I’m not working or being a mother, escaping to my office to write novels. And as of a year ago yesterday, when my New York Times piece got published in Modern Love, my life utterly changed. Suddenly I have a product which brings in a pay check and pays for my kid’s soccer cleats and organic strawberry splurges, (but not quite health insurance)…and in order to perpetuate this, I don’t have time for those novels. Not now.

This blog brings me joy because in it I get to share my little moments. I get to hear from readers and know that my writing has helped them somehow and respond to them. But for the last month, as I tread through the strange new waters of social media, Twittering and Facebooking, and investigating the amazingly powerful communities like Good Reads and She Writes and Blogher, and Huffington Post, and and and…I just started to want out of those waters altogether. I wanted to make some tea and sit here and do what I know how to do and that’s write books.

It seems like a LOT of writers feel this way. Especially those of us who didn’t come up in the age of the internet. Especially those of us who are used to long moments of focusing on one thing and making it as good as we can. Widening the third eye takes focus and solitude. Sometimes social media feels like there’s a swarm of mosquitoes in my office biting at me and I can’t find that focus. It’s maniac. I complained about it all month to cherished author friends. Sort of guiltily, because there’s so much to LOVE about the opportunity social media affords the writer. It means you can reach your audience without the publishing world. That is fantastic news! It’s just a new paradigm, and it has turned my writing life as I’ve known if for half my life up…side…down.

One author friend shared this quote with me:
I start a book as a poet-warrior armed with the noblest intentions, but by the end of the publishing process, I feel like a door-to-door
salesman
.” — James Sturm.

Do you think that when Longfellow wrote these sagacious words:
The heights by great men reached and kept, were not obtained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night,” he meant that we should fragment our energy into piggybacking on other people’s dreams and successes, obsessively, from our dark room by computer screen glow? Or that he meant that we should be using those upward toiling nights to mine our lives, widening that third eye until it’s sharp and keen like a hawk, putting our hearts and minds to a focus, not a series of shoulder taps.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thank you thank you thank you (and a bit of help me help me help me) in regard to social media. But this morning, I vowed that I would do like I used to. Wake up early, make some tea, and sit down to work on a new novel. And with a fresh new document that one day will become 300 or 400 pages…when the teapot screamed, I went into the kitchen and saw the cinnamon buns I’d lain on a plate for the kids, wrapped in morning light. Beautiful and basking.

There is freedom in creature comfort.

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