Snowflake by Snowflake
Updated: Dec 12, 2022
When I watch snow begin to fall and stick on blades of grass and tree branches and sidewalks, I marvel that these tiny individual snowflakes, taken together, can blanket my entire yard in snow.
My family spent this weekend in Midway, Utah. Yesterday, I pushed my younger daughter on one swing while my eldest swung by herself. She started off swinging in only modest arcs, but with each pump of her legs, she built momentum, going higher and higher until she was in full swing.
That evening, we cooked hot dogs and roasted marshmallows. To build the fire, I first piled up small bits of paper. On it, I lay the tiniest twigs I could find. Lighting the paper with a match, seeing the twigs catch on fire, I lay more tiny twigs, then thicker twigs. Once those too were alight, I added small branches and finally a couple of thick branches until the fire was a happy little inferno, ready to heat our hot dogs and mallows.
This pattern of nature's emerged in my mind.
The fire didn't go from zero to sixty in an instant. My daughter didn't get up to speed on the swing automatically. Snow doesn't accumulate all at once. One flake builds on another. One swinging arc provides potential energy for the next. A flame strong enough to ignite a thick branch is made by many smaller twigs.
No matter how small our steps toward a larger end goal, if done repeatedly over a long period of time, they will achieve results.
The verse from the Book of Mormon comes to mind: "Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise" (Alma 37:6).
I've often wondered what the phrase "confound the wise" is supposed to communicate. Reread the phrase tonight, I have at least one new perspective on it.
Apple's dictionary defines "confound" thus: "to cause surprise or confusion in (someone), especially by acting against their expectations." When someone does many, many simple tasks, that person is sure to achieve a level of outward and inward success leaps and bounds beyond the innately-talented person who tries to make their tasks so large and complex that they never bring themselves to doing them. And when, in ant vs grasshopper fashion, the latter sees what the former has achieved, they are dumbfounded. "How did they do that?!" they wonder in astonishment. That person isn't smart or skilled like I am. How did they end up achieving more than me?"
I have been the grasshopper many times in my life. Watching the success of ant friends, family, and acquaintances over the years, I see clearly that putting in the action, no matter how un-skilled or un-impressive each individual one is, if persisted over a long time, results in visible success. And refraining, resisting, or hiding from putting in the action, no matter how intelligent or innately talented one is, results in a visible lack of that same success.
When I have been the grasshopper, it hurts come wintertime. I want to be the ant.
What does that mean?
For me, a writer, it means writing, no matter how badly or incrementally.
Many scenes make a novel. One blog post a day builds a writing habit.
Many iterations make a polished work: one very rough draft, then a revision, then a revision on that, then showing it to others and making improvements based on their feedback--that's how anything gets written or designed. Most drafts aren't ready to be read right away. Most designs get changed multiple times before they are intuitive to understand and easy to use.
I've started to call my first very rough draft a dump draft. It's a very simple, straightforward thing: you just write down everything in your mind on the topic plus everything your mind generates by doing so. Once it's all down, you have content you can shape and prose you can polish.
Each fixed typo, each improved sentence's structure, each removal of an unneeded phrase, all are small things, but many of them make ready a bit of writing to be better understood and enjoyed.
I'm recommitting myself to write a blog post a day. They may be small and simple. But I will trust that, by doing them, my accumulated thoughts, or just my own skill skill as a writer, will amount to something great.
Thanks for reading.