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Taking Your Message on the Road

Dedicated to anyone who gets on stages with a message they care about.

Pre-order your copy of Willa’s Grove from your local bookstore or here for its March 3rd release!

Willa's Grove Book Tour

 

***My new website, with all the event links, launches this week…so stay tuned! For now, all of my event info can be found on the above websites.

Most every author I know both loves and dreads the book tour. I’m in the LOVE camp, but it also requires some heavy grounding and strong tools that you learn and lose and learn again. At least that’s how it is for me. One minute you’re on the stage sharing this book that has lived in you like a child in your womb, exposing it to the light of day, hoping people will love it like you do, afraid that they won’t, trying to let go of that attachment, trying to focus on being an authentic messenger. And sometimes when you’re on that stage, people assign you power. Put you on a pedestal, even. And sometimes they don’t. At all. (I had a heckler once!) And it’s your job to not take any of it personally, even though…I mean…if you have a kid…it sure would be nice for people to like it. So you do your best to share from the depths of your heart—without giving your heart away altogether, walking that fine line with all your might.

And then the next moment, you’re in a hotel room staring at the ceiling with a 4:00 am alarm set to catch a plane to another city, forgetting where you are in the time space continuum, never mind where the bathroom is, and the door for that matter, with another bad pillow under your head wondering why you are doing this at all. Isn’t it enough to just write the book, and have people read it and think what they want to think and it’s none of your business? That’s what you ask in that dark hotel room that smells like soggy cereal and institutional laundry bleach. And then you fall asleep and dream that you’re on the stage naked and people are throwing rotten tomatoes at you. And then the alarm goes off and you take in a deep breath because you want to get your kid to the next place it needs to go so you can give it all that a good mother gives to her child. And you do this in seven cities in eighteen days, sixteen times—and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have that kind of support from your publisher, or if you’ve figured out a way to do it on your own. How else could you possibly live with yourself if you didn’t? You have to. It’s just the way it works these days. And you are grateful. Deeply grateful. And there are moments of supreme joy and delight all along the way. AND you are also a little scared. A little wobbly. Hoping you’ll know yourself out there on the road.

I was on the road off and on for six years, promoting my memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, in the US, and internationally, and I learned so much about myself and the life that a book takes on. I was a tireless messenger. I was in it to help people. I was in it to finally realize a very old dream. I was in it to do everything in my power to make that bridge to the reader to complete the connection I built when I wrote that book in the first place. And I’m about to do it again in two weeks. New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle. Back home. And then to LA, and on and on. I love the road. I love meeting readers. I love watching my book baby take on life in the hearts of others. I love the prospect of others connecting with my characters, learning from them, feeling their hearts, rooting for their conflicts to find resolve. I’ve lived with them intimately for seven years and it’s time that they be released from their pages. It is a true honor to be their messenger.

The Dread part is usually more like this: (And this applies to anyone who is a messenger for something they hold dear.)

We create in solitude. Even if we’re extroverts (which for a writer is rare…but I am one for sure), it’s a strange thing to be able to coherently, and hopefully wisely, communicate just what our book is about. Part of us wants to say, “I wrote it. Now read it. You tell me what it’s about!”

The tendency is to want to splay ourselves supplicant on the altar of our book’s message, and every single one of its readers– especially those who show up to hear us read from it, ask us questions, receive our answers. This is not recommended. But we love these characters and the place they inhabit so purely and powerfully that it’s heartbreaking to think that others won’t. Or worse—that they’ll loathe and despise them. And that’s like someone loathing and despising our child. Enter: tough skin. Most writers don’t have it. Which is why we can write in the first place. We’re highly sensitive people. We feel everything. We are so full of empathy that oftentimes it’s to a fault. The trick is to not let that empathy derail us.

Advice to all of us on stages everywhere: You can’t control how people will react to your work. You can’t cause an effect for anyone in those audiences. You can’t take their reaction personally. You have to allow yourself to be misunderstood. You have to put your head on that bad pillow in the hotel room each night and let…it…go…

The main thing is that you have to support yourself as you go, and that’s the challenge. Taking care of yourself. And the stuff you do in your daily life in the realm of self-care might not play in Peoria. You might find yourself behaving in a way that totally shocks you. You might feel shame and disorientation. Please…from someone who knows…be kind to yourself. Find people who will hold your hand along the way in your humanity. Who know your heart. Who won’t put you on any sort of pedestal. And who in some way understand from experience what it is to take a message public.

So as I prepare to go on the road for all of March and most of April, doing ongoing promotion throughout 2020, I’m taking stock. As with any of you who hit the road with your message, it requires good boundaries and an open heart…and sometimes those two are hard to assemble into wholeness. So yes Love…and Dread. Take that love and use it to embrace your fear. Take that love and hope and wonder and belief…and wrap it around yourself. I have to believe that when we show up pulsing with love, that it honors everyone. And maybe I’ll even be good at it.

See you out there on the road! If you’re in the audience…please send me a little wink. We’re in this together. As my father used to say, “Shoulders back, Munson!” And that goes for all of the messengers out there!

Yours,

Laura

Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky.  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (full with wait list)
May 6-10 (still room!)
June 10-14
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

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How Questions Can Help You Find Your Voice

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We have just a few more spaces left on our 2016 Haven Writing Retreat calendar!

September 21-25 (one space left)
October 5-9 (spaces left)
October 19-23 (spaces left)

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

What does it really mean to find your voice?  I use this word “voice” all the time when I talk about writing.  Often I get met with looks of confusion or even terror.  “I don’t have a voice,” so many people say.  “Someone already said it better than I ever could, anyway.”

To me, that’s like being mad at God and saying that God doesn’t exist in the same breath.  If you’re mad at God, then you must think God exists.  If you simultaneously say that you don’t have a voice and that it isn’t unique, then you believe your voice exists!  And that’s where the writing comes in.

In my formative years, I had what my teachers called verbal diarrhea.  What’s the symbolism of the fish in “Old Man in the Sea?”  Oh oh oh!  Pick me!  Pick me!  I was THAT kid whose arm was raised so long that she had to prop it up with the other hand at the elbow until her fingers tingled, and still they only called on me when all the quiet people had been given a shot.  I screamed my lungs out at lacrosse and soccer and hockey games.  I was the president of the choir.  I spoke at chapel services.  I was in every musical, usually the brazen alto hussy.  Adelaide in Guys and Dolls is still one of the shining moments of my life.  In other words, all the world was a stage.  And that was before answering machines.  If there were answering machines in those days, I would have been cut off every time.  Beep.  Redial.  “Part Two…so anyway…”

And then, junior year in high school, I went mute.  I got vocal nodules.  I couldn’t talk without a severe rasp.  I couldn’t sing at all.  And I certainly couldn’t cheer.  The doctors told me that I could undergo an operation to remove the nodules, or I had to stop talking, including whispering, for three months.  Smack dab in the middle of my glory days.
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No talking?  Who was I without talking?  If I didn’t answer hard questions in the classroom, was I smart?  If I didn’t cheer at the game, did I have school spirit?  If I didn’t stay up late night with friends solving the problems of the universe, was I loving and loyal and deep?  If I didn’t join the throngs that converged between classes, in the dining hall, in assemblies and social gatherings with my stab at quick wit or charm or whatever it was that I was trying to prove in the weight of words…then who was I?

Everything changed that year.  In the classroom, my hand remained on my pen, taking copious notes where I would otherwise be thinking about what I was going to say next.  In conversation, I did the same.  I listened.  At sports games, I learned how to whistle loudly.  And to communicate what I had to say, I carried around a notebook.  High school girls talk fast, and writing takes a while.  So I learned to only chime in when I really had something important to add to the conversation.

But I felt left out.  So I fashioned a tool that changed my life.  I started asking questions.  Questions were the way to go.  People had opinions and answers and I loved writing them down and turning them into essays for the school newspaper, like Erma Bombeck.  I wanted to be Erma Bombeck.  But how was she so sharp and funny and real and deep?  How did she have that unique Erma Bombeck voice?  It dawned on me that it had to grow from a deep curiosity.  She had questions, and she wrote into the answers.  Questions held the key.  It would be years before I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet:  “…love the questions themselves…”

A question, especially a powerful one, begs an answer.  And no answer is ever the same.  It’s only as good as the person of whom you ask the question.  Of course we all fear that we are ripping off something that we heard someone else say, or parroting the collective bombast.  But even if we try with all our puny might to opine the way Uncle Henry did last Thanksgiving…we really can’t.  I see it over and over at my writing retreats.  I put out a writing prompt, and ten minds go in ten directions.  Sometimes there are parallels, but even those are unique to the author.  It’s just not possible for me to think or speak or write like you, or vice the verse.

So how do you find your voice?  Maybe go mute.  Or mute-ish for a few days.  Make a conscious effort to take a beat before you speak.  If you’re not a big talker, let yourself off the hook and just listen.  The world will go on without our commentary.  We’re not going to lose our job or a loved one over a few lost words.  Tell them you’re on vocal rest, if you must.  Don’t tell them why.  And use this time very intentionally to write down your observations.  Then, turn them into powerful questions that you answer on the page for your eyes only.  Notice what you have to say and how you have to say it, without any pressure.  You might be surprised.  Now bring this back into your interactions with people (and if you’re a writer, in your work), and see if you feel more empowered.  See what your voice sounds like now.

Take away:  if you think you don’t have a voice, start with a powerful question.  (Notice that I began this essay with one.)  Answer it for yourself, in a journal, or on a walk when no one’s listening.  You have a voice.  No one can say what you have to say in the way that only you can say it.  Your job is to give yourself permission to believe that this is so.
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