No Story too Small

Have you ever wanted to write something–be it an essay, a short story, a novel, a blog entry, a poem, a song–anything . . . but then never did?  The idea perhaps seemed too small, too trivial, too run-of-the-mill.  “Who’d want to read about that?” you might have said.  I know I have.  There is an expectation sometimes that the things we write need to be big–life-altering masterpieces that ignite universes and give birth to new and exciting ideas.  We want to “wow” our audience.

This is something that John-Boy Walton once struggled with, too.  I have long been a fan of The Waltons–the 1970s dramatic television series about the struggles of a family living through the Great Depression in rural Virginia.

waltons

 

I suppose as a writer myself, I’ve always gravitated toward John-Boy, the main character on the show.  When the series begins, John-Boy is seventeen, still in high school, and an aspiring writer.

johnboy

 

In a season-one episode titled “The Literary Man,” John-Boy crosses paths with a well-traveled and well-read fellow who is passing through the area.  John-Boy invites the man, A.J. Covington, to his family’s home, where Covington stays on for a few days, helping out with the Waltons’ sawmill operation.

ajcovington

 

As John-Boy quickly discovers, Covington is a writer–or at least he claims to be.  Older, more experienced, Covington impresses John-Boy with stories of Jack London, Carl Sandberg, Theodore Dreiser, and other master wordsmiths.  He quotes passages from Moby Dick.  “Melville was my model and inspiration when I was learning the craft,” he explains.  He sees in John-Boy the makings of a writer, but he gives him this advice:

“If you want to make it [as a writer], your writing has to come first–before comfort, security, happiness . . . Very few stick it out.”  As Covington explains to the young and impressionable teenager, he travels a lot.  When John-Boy asks him where home is, the older man replies, “The world’s my home.”  He is always on the lookout for new experiences–grist for the writer’s mill.

Covington says that when he was younger, he grew up on a small farm in Indiana–rural roots similar to John-Boy’s.  But when he was seventeen, Covington left home, venturing out into the world without money, without prospects, but with determination.  He says he knew then, as he knows now, that a writer needs to leave everyone and everything behind in order to find the big story he or she is meant to write.  That story is out there–somewhere.  You just have to find it.

Hearing this, thinking about it, John-Boy becomes discouraged.  He tells Covington that he’ll never make it as a writer because his writing can never come first.  He can’t turn his back on the people who depend on him, can’t cut the ties with family and friends to go searching for the big story he was meant to write.  He doesn’t have the courage, he explains.  He’s just not cut out to be a writer.  And he plans to give up his writing and concentrate on his chores and his family.

Covington feels bad.  He never intended for his advice to have this effect.  Near the end of the episode, he has a long talk with John-Boy.  He tells him he’s not much of a writer, not really.  He’s talked out all his stories in saloons and on street corners.  But he has written very little.  And then he attempts to undo the damage he had earlier and unwittingly heaped upon his new young friend  . . .

“Don’t waste your life searching for the one big story you were born to write,” he says.  “Write the little stories.  Who knows?  The sum total of them might be the big story.  Write about . . . your feelings about your family and this place–just the way you’ve been doing.  Write about how it is to be young and confused and poor–groping, but surrounded by a strong father and loving mother, and surrounded by brothers and sisters that pester you and irritate you . . . but who care about you.  Try to capture that in words, John-Boy.  That’s as big a challenge as the Klondike or the white whale or flying the Atlantic Ocean alone.  It was too big for me.  But I think you might just be up to it.”

***************

If there is a character in The Eye-Dancers who needs to hear the same message, it is undoubtedly Mitchell Brant.  A dreamer, someone who thinks big but is not satisfied with his day-to-day self, Mitchell continually invents extravagant stories about himself, hoping to impress his friends and classmates.  He doesn’t think plain old Mitchell Brant is good enough, or likeable enough, or popular enough . . .  It takes the kind words of a new friend in the variant town of Colbyville to get him to realize, or at least begin to realize, that he doesn’t need to lie and invent and exaggerate.  He just needs to be himself.

At some point or another, we all feel like Mitchell Brant.  We feel, as John-Boy Walton did throughout much of “The Literary Man,” that our stories are not exciting enough or grand enough, or big enough.  But the flip side is also true.  A person like A.J. Covington spends his entire life searching, searching . . . for the epic story he was born to write.  But all along the story he was truly meant to write was inside him.  It wasn’t something to search for.  It was something to let out.

We all have stories to tell.  Sometimes they’re nail-biting–a death-defying chase across a busy highway; a sports triumph with much of the world watching; a journey to the stars and beyond.  Other times they’re small, quiet, tiptoeing along without making a sound–baking cookies with a since-departed grandmother on a cold winter day; tossing the ball around with a big brother who could’ve been out with his girl or his friends but instead took the time to play with you; lying in bed at night, looking up at the ceiling, wondering why it hurts so much to be rejected by someone you don’t even care about, don’t even like.  The simple joys and hurts and challenges and loves and memories of living . . .

storytotell

 

One of my very favorite short stories is Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.”

christmasmemory

 

The opening paragraph reads as follows:

“Imagine a morning in late November.  A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago.  Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town.  A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it.  Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.”

A late-November morning.  A country kitchen in a small town.  A black stove, a table, a fireplace, and two rocking chairs.  It is hard to paint a more “ordinary” picture.  It would be a challenge to begin a story in a more soft-spoken and simple manner. And yet–it is riveting.  Evocative.  Magical.

Do you have a story to tell?  Do you feel it is “trivial”?  That it won’t captivate and interest people?  Tell it anyway.  Tell it honestly, openly.  Share a little piece of your heart.

story

 

Your readers will be glad you did.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

59 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sue Dreamwalker
    Aug 22, 2013 @ 16:55:51

    It was a November morning the mist was still hanging low as the woman looked out the small window to see the frost laden hedges.. She shuddered, as she pulled up her rocking chair closer to the large black stove, pulling her shawl closer she held out her hands for warmth as the flames grew larger from the fire just re-stoked with logs.
    She rocked back and forth, the creaking of her chair filled the old kitchen as she looked across at the vacant rocking chair opposite.. A sigh escaped her lips as her memory took her back to another time as the kitchen opened up it memories…………

    LOL well I have had Fun here Mike………. poorly done I know.. But you got my brain matter ticking, and I love John-Boy and the Waltons…. in fact my little sister when we said good night to each other when children would always have to have the Last Good Night…. there were 5 of us children 4 in one bedroom my brother was lucky he had his own room…. Reminding me of that Good-night John-Boy 🙂

    Be well 🙂

    Reply

  2. jjspina
    Aug 22, 2013 @ 17:39:56

    I loved this. You really tell it from your heart. You have an innate ability to touch your reader’s hearts with your eloquent yet at the same time simple and beautiful words!
    I look forward to reading your next post.

    I liked the Waltons too with their simple way of life which in essence was really very difficult. They had to work the land and live off what they planted. They were hard workers and God-fearing people. Best wishes!

    Reply

  3. cindy knoke
    Aug 22, 2013 @ 21:13:11

    You write beautifully!! Good night! 🙂

    Reply

  4. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    Aug 22, 2013 @ 22:12:41

    You are so right Mike. Don’t try to show the forest, sometimes the bark of a single tree is enough.

    Reply

  5. stockdalewolfe
    Aug 23, 2013 @ 00:35:30

    I love that Truman Capote story, too. You give good advice.

    Reply

  6. Minister Gertrude Ferguson - Founder & CEO- Enough Tribulations
    Aug 23, 2013 @ 01:49:26

    This is indeed true and inspiring. It might not be the story you think will “wow” your audience, it might just be the story you think will not “wow” them. Great pointers!

    Reply

  7. Sam Han
    Aug 23, 2013 @ 04:55:37

    jjspina said it for me “You have an innate ability to touch your reader’s hearts with your eloquent yet at the same time simple and beautiful words!” I have trouble writing a post because I find it difficult to express myself clearly. Kudos, Mike! Your writing is a gift. You are talented 😀

    Reply

  8. Sherri
    Aug 23, 2013 @ 11:39:45

    Oh Mike, what a beautifully written post. I loved watching The Waltons, this really brought it back for me (I adored John Boy, think I had a teenage crush on him 🙂 ) and I always loved how every episode had such a strong moral message. Your message to us in this post is indeed a powerful one and a great reminder that so often, that ‘big’ story is staring us right in the face. Big, because it is written from the heart. What could be more powerful than that? Thanks Mike 🙂

    Reply

  9. barbaramonier
    Aug 23, 2013 @ 16:30:37

    Wonderful!

    Reply

  10. BroadBlogs
    Aug 23, 2013 @ 17:08:00

    Love John Boy. He always knew what to say. And I saw that episode not too long ago on a box set.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Aug 23, 2013 @ 17:24:04

      Yes, John-Boy is a great character–Richard Thomas played him so well. They really messed up by bringing in another actor to play the part when the series was nearing its end, but these early Walton episodes are great.

      Reply

  11. fashionassist
    Aug 23, 2013 @ 17:22:57

    Wonderful post + adore The Walton’s…
    for many of us, they taught us much about life…
    and now via you they’re teaching us about writing 😉
    Your reminder via John-Boy’s experience (and Mitchell Brant’s) is a good one…
    that we should not always be so focused on a search for material outside us…
    but instead look for what is inside us, and write about that…
    or as you so simply put it…let it out!
    Thanks for this needed reminder Mike~

    Reply

  12. Charron's Chatter
    Aug 23, 2013 @ 17:52:51

    what a great linking of 3 fairly diverse topics–I was mesmerized by the weave. I LOVED John Boy, and the Waltons, although I wasn’t really writing much at the time of viewing…

    For me: The Grass Harp. Other Voices Other Rooms, too, but that first one, wow. Truman captured the “isness” of kid-dom like no other–he was like a parallel soul to read. I HAVE to pick up that Christmas memory!!

    Good Night, Mike Fed…

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Aug 23, 2013 @ 18:53:15

      Thank you, Karen! Yes, “The Grass Harp”! A masterpiece! And yes–you definitely need to pick up “A Christmas Memory”–one of the truly great short stories ever written . . .

      Reply

  13. honeydidyouseethat
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 00:22:32

    Ahhh! As always so inspiring. You should be out there on the circuit encouraging writers of all ages.

    Reply

  14. skywanderer
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 05:32:50

    Mike –
    How lovely! I need to say it again – reading your blog is always like returning to the childhood dream, breathing fresh air in that magic world and collecting some feathers into those heavy wings.
    You are not only a writer of new classics – as I see it – but you really care about your readers.
    Thank you so much : )

    Reply

  15. Fashion Mayann
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 13:39:28

    “Share a little piece of your heart” … When I’m commenting on blogs, I always try to be as honest and open as possible, sometimes I fear that the blogger don’t have the same tastes, but it’s, I think, the only way to find this whole “blogging” thing truly interesting … Your posts are so exciting, well-wriiten and honest : I just don’t want to miss a single word !

    Reply

  16. teagan geneviene
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 17:02:23

    That was a fabulous post! How insightful. I really enjoyed it.

    Reply

  17. Brook
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 20:42:01

    Mike–this is wonderful!!! “Write the little stories….” *Thank you* for such encouragement.

    Reply

  18. WordsFallFromMyEyes
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 10:17:39

    Mike, this is great. You’ve hit on exactly, exactly why I’ve taken so long before going out and actually writing – or I should say “coming out & writing”. I always thought what I had to say was of no value.

    I LOVED the Waltons. Many, many a day after school I soaked them up, wished achingly for a family like that.

    Really enjoyed this post, Mike.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Aug 26, 2013 @ 13:18:04

      Thanks so much! And I am very glad that you are writing and sharing your words and thoughts! I am a big fan of your site! Your posts are always great, and very meaningful.

      Reply

  19. Jacqui Murray
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 16:01:23

    Interesting article. Thanks.

    Reply

  20. reocochran
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 00:18:03

    I write little stories all the time, but there are a few children’s books I have put on paper and illustrated, sent out and have not been published. I used one book in the battered women’s shelter as a “pamphlet” and another read to my daughter’s 4H group. All needs to be in perspective. You can feel like you have accomplished something without being published but it is awesome that you are published and others, here, too.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Aug 27, 2013 @ 12:00:17

      Thank you, Robin! I always appreciate hearing from you, and you have definitely accomplished much with your writing! Your posts are a part of my regular reading, and I always look forward to what you have to say.

      Reply

  21. Enchanted Seashells, Confessions of a Tugboat Captain's Wife
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 13:46:59

    I’m always mired in not finishing or even starting! It’s heartening to see someone who can though, good job!

    Reply

  22. Lipstick and Chaos
    Aug 28, 2013 @ 21:31:32

    I love that I found this today – I’ve begun baby steps toward the bigger story by writing smaller ones 🙂 You will likely not find them on my “daily” blog but you can scan the side links to see what I mean! Congrats on your year of blogging and for such wonderful posts to read!

    Reply

  23. saminaiqbal27
    Sep 02, 2013 @ 04:03:45

    A wonderful post and it offers so much to us as writers and how to addresses our anxieties about writing. I enjoyed it greatly. Thank you for sharing stories with us. Take care and have a lovely weekend.

    Reply

  24. Kavita Joshi
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 07:25:12

    I need to watch this now as Love John Boy from your post here 🙂

    Reply

  25. Kathy
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 21:19:49

    Great post – thank you for your words of wisdom weaved together in a way that captivates and touches the soul. I’ve been struggling searching for the story that needs to be told. Your post together with Ray Bradbury’s quote that simply says to let your intuition take over and get out of the way, I have stepped out of the way and the story that I was meant to write let itself be known. I look forward to reading more from you!

    Reply

  26. reocochran
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 16:13:44

    I want to put a p.s. While up at my Mom’s senior living apt. we watched a few Waltons and we were touched with the series close to the end of their run. The Waltons as grandparents were so caring and very interesting. I liked the fact one night they all said goodnight to the grandchildren and all who were visiting “back home.” The way you mention the one episode about writing was genuis to get us all remembering why we write! Words are everlasting!

    Reply

  27. errinspelling.wordpress.com
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 00:08:46

    that was beautiful. now i understand that episode .i don’t think grandma liked a j covington very much.

    Reply

  28. whatuful
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 05:16:24

    Hey your blog is really interesting!! 😀

    Reply

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