Big is Massively Overrated
Writers — stop trying to pan out — focus on the little things
Medium’s tagline is “a place to write big ideas and important stories.”
This can make you feel inadequate and intimidated. Because unless you are a genius, a deity or a giant, your day-to-day ideas and experiences are likely to be the size of a mouse’s hatpin.
“Who am I,” you fret, “to commit my minuscule thoughts to paper and whirl them into the world? Does anyone really want to read about how I once gave a spider the kiss of life after it fell into a droplet of water? Or how I once superglued a frog’s leg back on after I accidentally strimmed it?”
(These are both, sadly, quite true. Neither ended well.)
What can be done, when the most significant thing you managed today was not making $10,000 or solving Brexit or inventing a new app, but instead undertaking a time-consuming and unappreciated make-over of your rescue pigeons’ aviary?
Comparison is invidious. When held up against Blue Whale ideas, your own fairyfly musings are easily overshadowed.
But size isn’t everything. Small carries its own power.
English, 19th-century poet and visionary William Blake wrote:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
Those lines came to me one spring morning by a pond in Umbria, central Italy, when I stood and watched as a wild flower bud unfurled in the warm sunshine. I thought things like that only happened on nature TV programmes, courtesy of time lapse photography. To see it myself in real time was mesmerizing, a tiny moment that only I had witnessed. I will never forget it.
Most ordinary mortals’ lives are made up of millions of these little moments. It’s easy to dismiss them as boring or insignificant. But they are the very fabric of our existence, the gossamer thread that stitches life together.
Write about those experiences, and people can immediately relate. There is magic in the mundane, if you know how to mine it.
Ordinary people lead extraordinary lives if you probe a little bit beneath the surface.
Never feel embarrassed to describe a small event. Because big events are just the product of lots of smaller ones.
When people tell their stories, it is always the small details that make it real. Rags to riches tales are only compelling because of the bit where the protagonist worked as a shelf-stacker and threw up over the store’s cat. We’ve all been there, in some form or another. The devil is in the detail.
Actress Tallulah Bankhead may famously have said “There’s less to her than meets the eye,” but for most people the opposite is true. Ordinary people lead extraordinary lives if you probe a little bit beneath the surface.
I live in Tuscany, Italy, half the time in Florence. A few weeks ago, I found myself in a back street in the outskirts of the city where the “Ufficio Oggetti Trovati” is located. This is the intriguingly-named Office of Found Objects and we were there because someone had handed in my husband’s ID card, inadvertently dropped on a train. “What’s the most interesting thing anyone has ever lost?” I asked the rather pale and serious middle-aged man in charge. “A horse?” I continued. “A husband?” His face lit up and he chuckled. It turned out to be a car crammed with children that a foreign couple had managed to misplace in Florence. “No-one has ever asked me that question before!” he said. He was still smiling as we left.
When you go super-small and super-detailed, what you uncover can be as vast as a cosmos.
It is easy to underestimate the fascination that your daily life can hold for others, because no-one else lives like you do. What you consider routine, even boring, may be endlessly entertaining and informative for other people.
You can’t get a bigger subject than infinity, but it works both ways. I have often wondered whether the infinity of outer space and all that lies beyond is the same as the infinity you can begin to probe through a microscope. When you go super-small and super-detailed, what you uncover can be as vast as a cosmos.
So never be embarrassed that what you have is too insignificant or insubstantial.
Small is beautiful.
Share it and celebrate it.