How to be an Overnight Success
First you have to work for 20 years and write 14 novels that get rejected. You have to also write magazine pieces and face rejection, but sometimes, an editor will choose your piece and you’ll have a paycheck and a clip for your next pitch. Then another, and so on. This takes a long time, and it takes time away from your novel-writing, but it also can, if you’re lucky, land you a high profile gig like say, the New York Times.
After Laura Munson’s piece ran in The Times, many many people read it. It was reprinted on websites and the overload of comments on the paper’s own site caused a crash. This is what is referred to as creating a buzz.
Because Munson worked tirelessly at her writing, because she was going through a crisis in her marriage that she wrote about daily as a way to manage her panic, that she practiced an unusual but deeply spiritual method of marriage repair, and she dared to write about it, because her husband said “okay” when she noticed she had 300 pages of memoir and she thought she might send it to her agent, all of these circumstances led to Munson getting a book deal in 48 hours.
A 20 year habit of writing, a lucky break with a huge newspaper, zealous reader response, a marriage in crisis: all of these things contributed to Munson’s overnight success.
Her willingness to try to live by the books she read that told her over and over again that she alone was responsible for her own happiness. That happiness is a choice, that it occurs in the moment. Nobody, not even a husband who wants to walk away, can make you unhappy if you stay centered in the small moments of your life. If you continue to notice sunsets and flowers in bloom and the beauty of your children’s smiles.
Munson wanted to know if she could stay centered in a storm. Mostly, she found, she could. But she had to give up her idea of what the outcome would be. She had to surrender, over and over again, to her husband’s hurtful actions as he took time off from the marriage to go deeply into his own dark night of the soul.
She knew it was his journey, she couldn’t control him. She set limits on what she would allow, but there was freedom for him there within those limits. He could for example walk away forever. Or he could take time off for travel. She gave him a lot of space, even when she wanted to scream at him and even when she could tell her kids were hurting. She felt he was going through something only he could work out, that she couldn’t control the outcome.
She could only be strong, choose happiness where she could find it: on her horse in the wilds of Montana, or in making tomato sauce with her children, or in writing. It wasn’t that Munson didn’t want to engage in the normal dramas. It wasn’t that she didn’t want her husband to come to his senses. It’s that she sensed her desire for the family they once were would overwhelm her if she let it get the upper hand. Wanting creates suffering if we let it. If you just let desire be…if you surrender to it, but also to life exactly as it is, then desire is just another fleeting feeling.
Munson had a lot of experience with thwarted desire. She’d been practicing surrenderring outcomes for a while. But this was different than her writing rejections. This was a deeply personal rejection by her life partner. And yet, she found the strength to surrender outcomes, stay strong, and hope for the best without giving away her dignity or, indeed, her own happiness.
That’s why her memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is is subtitled A Season of Unlikely Happiness. As she said in an interview, the book really isn’t about how to fix a marriage. It’s about how to get through the tough times in life, whatever they are, without losing your joy.