Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I glanced up at the shelf of books over my dresser. Most of these titles are ones my mom had, ones I wanted to keep because they were hers. There’s a copy of A Good Man is Hard To Find and this beautifully slip-jacketed version of The Imitation of Christ, plus a coloring book for The Book of Kells, where my mother has filled two pages with delicate, bright pencil.
On the end of the shelf, I saw three books, all part of the Not So Big House series by Sarah Susanka. I had forgotten they were there, so when I spotted them, my heart leapt, and my eyes teared. It was like Mom had been planning for God’s Whisper all along.
For years, she had pulled these books together, and when I came home, she would take them out and point to just what you thought I might like. She was always right.
Last night, as I sat reading the first book, The Not So Big House, it occurred to me that this philosophy of building a house not for size or prestige but for use and comfort and beauty was something Mom had always done and something she instilled in me as a core trait of who I am. I do not appreciate the flashy or the popular much. But the well-made and the lovely, that I love.
I love it not only in houses and furniture, but in writing. There’s a beauty I appreciate in writing that is “not so big.” Here are five of the things I love in writing that is built for use, comfort and beauty.
1. Nothing is unused. In addition to the maxim that you can’t leave a loaded gun unused if you introduce it, I find that I most appreciate writing that incorporates all of the emotional and psychological traits of its characters. Perhaps this is why I love Marilynne Robinson so much – there isn’t much action, but man alive, does that woman know how to write psychological and emotional complexity! No experience is mentioned unless it’s important in the characters’ lives. All the pieces of the story are important. Nothing sits empty like an old-fashioned dining room. The spaces of the work are lived in.
2. Writing is sustainable. For our writing to be comfortable, useful, and beautiful, it has to be sustaining for us and for our readers. This is why I believe so strongly in the power and health of a writing practice, where we show up and write on a schedule because we know this is where we take our sustenance.
3. Bigger is not necessarily better. In this time where building a big writing platform sometimes seems to be more important than having something important to say on that platform, the “not so big” idea reminds me that we don’t build bigger just to be bigger. We build what we need with our words and find that what we need is what others sometimes need, even if it’s small and quiet and only seemed right to us at first.
4. Perfect is not the same for everyone. Some of us may have all day to write and so can and do. Some of us have only 30 minutes three times a week to write and so can and do. Some of us want to publish with a huge publishing house and have the vetting that comes with that process, and some of us want to self-publish and save the time and effort of shopping a manuscript. Some of us want to write massive tomes of philosophical wisdom, and some of us want to write romances that page out at 10,000 words. Our version of writing is as individual as our homes. I love honoring that.
5. Comfort is key. It’s easy to think that we need to be writing more or blogging more or tweeting more or, or, or. But the truth is that all of us need to do what we are comfortable with. I will never want modern furniture and painted wood, but someone else might think chrome and clean lines are perfect. Just as I will probably never want to write a fantasy novel, but so many writers do it so well and get such joy from it. We all must do what we are comfortable with, honor where we are in our writing process, and write how we were made to be. Sure, we need to challenge our ideas of who we are as writers and try new things. But when the sun goes down and we find ourselves alone with our words, we all need to write what makes us feel like we’re home.
What do you think of the idea that comfort, use, and beauty are paramount in writing?