A few years ago I began writing handwritten letters (or e-mails when I couldn't find a physical address) to authors whose work moved me. At this period of time, I revered authors and felt like they were inaccessible—humans with something more. The practice of writing—and the joy of receiving a response—removed them from the pedestals I had placed all authors helped me build my network of author-mentors. I also began to envision myself as a one-day member of that exalted club.
One of the authors I wrote to was Laura Munson. We exchanged a few e-mails. Inspired by her book, I wrote an author statement and shared it with her, the author of the memoir This Is Not the Story You Think It Is – A Season of Unlikely Happiness. Laura was generous in her responses and so encouraging.
Later I learned about her Haven retreats and contacted her about attending. After speaking with her on the phone (I was talking to a real-life NYT Bestselling Author!) I knew that one day I would go to Montana to attend her retreat. Timing is everything. I had already registered to attend the Washington University Summer Writers Institute, so I backburnered Haven.
Fast forward two years. Now, I am writing every day. I am celebrating my way through 2015, my fortieth year, by crossing off items from my 40/40 list. One of the activities was to create a list of the top 40 books that have meant the most to me in my first 40 years. Laura's book made the list. I sent her the link to my blog post and gave her background about both lists.
Two months passed. One evening while I was at a work event, I looked at my phone and saw a message from Laura. She'd just seen my message, thanked me for the sentiment, and told me that an opening had just become available for her June retreat. Would I like to come?
The timing felt right despite some obstacles to overcome. Where there's a will there's a way. Six weeks later, I was on a plane headed to Kalispell, Montana, with 65,000 words of Astrid's story packed on my lap top.
Those five days in the mountains of Montana changed my writing life. I forged friendships with other women-writers that will last my lifetime. Laura nurtured me into a new phase of writing.
She read and critiqued 30 pages of my novel. These were pages that no other human eyes had read. It was exhilarating and terrifying. Did I have a knack for fiction? Could I tell a story? In our one-on-one session together, Laura gave me solid direction about the structure my second draft could take.
“I can hear the passion you have for writing this story, and I can tell how much you love your characters.” She told me that I was a writing teacher's dream because I'm fearless on the page. Ha! I actually laughed out loud.
“That's hilarious. I'm afraid of everything,” I told her.
“Well, I don't know that about you, and I don't register fear in your words.”
Later, Laura sat next to me as I settled into read aloud five pages to the group. I was nervous, but she believed in me and my words and my ability to share them.
I have grown so much in ability, confidence, and understanding myself as a writer and a person. Not a week (or sometimes a day) passes that my Haven experience doesn't come to mind. I am fortified by remembering Laura's description of me. “Fearless on the page.” Writing informs my life and life informs my writing.
Writing a novel was not on the 40/40 list, but it's been a beautiful accompaniment to the activities and challenges that have marked my best year yet.
Laura's retreats are for anyone and everyone. You don't have to be writing a book to go. To learn Laura and Haven, please visit http://blog.lauramunson.com/laura-munson-haven-newsletter/