I’ve heard it said before that there are two types of writers in the world: pantsers and planners. The pantsers fly by the seat of their pants, letting the story come to life as they type. The planners organize. Outline. Map out their characters.
Writing Every Shattered Thing was definitely moment after moment of flying by the seat of my pants.
Watching that cursor blink against the white space and typing out Sunrises make me come alive I knew the story would be a raw one. I knew there would be situations and topics I would need to tackle in order to make this character who was bouncing around my head and heart come to life.
She was the girl I mentored and almost adopted.
She was the student who left my class to cut in the bathroom.
She was the teenager who at seventeen had never heard the words I believe in you.
So I started writing this story that felt a lot like telling the truth but telling it slant, and then Stephanie goes and throws a curve ball into the mix by admitting to Kevin her deepest secret.
And can I just say I’m not one to write a morality tale? Like, I think at some point there was a small part of me bent on justice and wanting to explore my feminist tendencies within writing but not now. I’m more concerned with character development and staying true to the story.
So in a lot of ways, I’m very much a reluctant messenger.
Here’s the thing: I believe everyone has a story and that story can change the world of someone if we let it. And Stephanie? She gutted me. Giving her the space to breathe showed me things about writing and fiction and who I am as an individual I never anticipated. So this processing through storytelling quickly turned into an urgency. I began researching. I began calling up organizations. I asked questions. I listened.
I found out that human trafficking earns more per year than Nike, Starbucks and Google combined.
I heard from officials who participate in raids describe what it’s like to plan the route of a rescue and how everything about it is harsh: the busting down of doors, the yelling, the guns everywhere, the snipers waiting in the distance.
I heard from those who work with survivors talk about the frailty of the foster care system and how easy it is to make a quick buck on a child.
I learned that often, a knee jerk reaction is the worst and taking a breath and assessing is the best.
I remembered that in every rescue is a story.
And I finally understand the cadence of Stephanie’s words vibrating against my bones:
The sky is screaming....the morning sky [screams] my discontent to a world not listening.
This is where the magic happened.
As a writer, letting go of all of these preconceived notions of the story I thought I would write was excruciating but essential to the characters. I had to remember the guts—had to remember the humanity, even—and once I remembered that, I could take the next step.
We are nothing as writers if we can't take the time to listen to our stories—to learn and remember. The words may still come, and they may even hold a weight or two. But unless we listen for that rhythm so inherent in each of us—the one that serves as the undercurrent to our own freedom song—then what does our art even mean?
I think this is what I mean when I say I want to write holy and broken. When I watch the waves tumble over each other and whisper into the breeze I don't want my words to be wasted. I want them to be temples. It's not enough for me to write a story that fits the formula of bestseller or trend or top 100 list (even though, let's be real: any of those would be amazing).
I want my words to move you. I want my words to move within me. I want to experience the feeling of hanging on as tight as I can to the words falling on the screen because the story is moving and I am running after it and my breath is heavy and my vision is blurring but it's working—the story is working—and nothing else around me means anything until those words have their say.
This is how I know I've created something out of compost. This is when I know I'm listening well.