September 04, 2015

On Breaking Things to Fix Them

Many strange and wonderful things have happened in the past few weeks: I received ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of Counting Thyme (!!!!), I took my kiddos out of the country for the first time, and at the end of that trip, I broke my foot.

That progression felt quite literally like the kind of rising action and climax from a novel. Now I'm left in bed, foot propped, medicine cutting off all functionality for stretches of time...but I'm also thinking a lot in between. I am a person who asks WHY.

Why do these words of mine look so different in book form?

Why did we end up taking a two-day detour through Atlanta and Miami to get out of the country?

Why did that bone in my foot snap?

I swear, all I did was take a step!

Well, that right there is the answer, I think. I took a step. That's what we do every day in life. We move forward, and what happens next isn't always what we expect. We write a book only to rewrite it twenty times. We forget that our children need passports too and end up spending the day at the World of Coca-Cola while those passports are printed. We break a bone and spend the hours waiting for it to heal as all the petty concerns fall away, leaving us somehow happier.

My busted foot

In life, as in writing, sometimes you have to break a thing before you can fix it.

When something breaks, we despair. We resist. We fight. And sometimes, we save ourselves--to a degree--but there's often a moment of surrender. There is opportunity in that moment.

I like to think of this as the magical point when clouds part and the sun breaks through, bright and glowing and overwhelming--pure sensory overload. Surrender feels like that to me. Like I'm suddenly cut loose, awash in light, moorless but not lost. Instead, I've stepped into a more open space, a space where I can catch my breath and a glimpse of clear blue sky before the clouds close in again.

I've experienced this moment many times while writing. Often there are tears and yelling. I tend to yell when I'm at the house, working by myself. All of that fight and energy is me resisting letting go. When I finally do, instead of feeling like I'm drowning, I usually feel relief. Inevitably, the answers come soon after that. I think the letting go allows me to be more honest with myself about what matters in a story and what doesn't--about what truths I am avoiding because I'm afraid I can't fix them, and what changes I'm avoiding because they don't ring true at all.

Me, breaking things

Truth is the goal we're seeking in all of this.

We want our stories to resonate, to latch onto readers' hearts and give them a squeeze. Sometimes, those truths become buried in all of the work we've done. That's where the breaking comes in. We break what we've worked so hard to achieve, and when it heals, it comes back stronger. Better. Infinitely better than if it had never been broken in the first place.

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