Writing the Extraordinary
Throughout our lives, we experience Extraordinary things, events, people, and places. Just as I think of creative masterpieces and products as “Big C” Creativity that only occur occasionally, Extraordinary things are extraordinary because they happen so infrequently - the first moon landing, the end of a war, the development of a new vaccine...
There is nothing wrong with writing about Extraordinary times, people, places, or events, just as there is nothing wrong with Big C Creativity.
But life offers us fewer chances to witness the Extraordinary, just as it offers less Creativity. Instead, life is full, overflowing, in fact, with extraordinary moments and opportunities for creativity. I've learned it's this “lower case” extraordinary that rounds out and adds richness to my writing practice.
By all means, write to capture the Extraordinary. But if you only focus on finding those capital “E” moments, you risk missing the myriad extraordinary people, events, places, and things that you come across every day. Not everything in your daily life will be extraordinary, but there will be extraordinary moment each and every day. You just have to look for them.
I like to think about the words of poet Mary Oliver:
"Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astounded. Tell about it."
Hopefully, as a creative, you’re an active observer, looking for and recording things that catch your creative attention throughout the day - snippets of conversation, the colors in the sky on a cloudy day, a line you love from a movie or book, the way a triangle intersects a circle on a sign, the smells that hit you the moment you walk through the door of your favorite cafe.
By harnessing the power of observation, you notice and become aware of opportunities to find the extraordinary in the everyday moment of your life. But it doesn’t end with observation.
Observation is detached, unemotional, unbiased. When I think of observation, I think of scientists looking at tiny organisms under a high-powered microscope and recording what they see.
Microscopic organisms are ordinary as we observe them, but they become extraordinary when we appreciate them, when we stare in awe at the tiny universe and its characters we didn’t know existed, when we get curious about what is happening in this tiny world, when we take a moment to sit back and give thanks for having the chance to witness its wonder.
Appreciation, awe, curiosity, gratitude — these are what turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Writing about the extraordinary begins with finding it, and to do this I like to ask my inner child to come to the writing table.
I’ve always loved walking in nature, and I was fortunate that when my daughters were toddlers and preschoolers, we lived next to a large park in the Washington, DC, area called Sligo Creek.
The Sligo Creek Trail extends for over 10 miles throughout Montgomery County, Maryland, and each day I’d load up the double stroller and strap on the front carrier and backpack carrier to take my four little humans on “an adventure walk” as I liked to call it. (Trust me - walking with four children age 4 and under is an adventure every time!)
We began our adventure walks with me carrying or pushing my little people for at least a mile or two, because once I released them from the stroller or carrier, our walk became a crawl. As soon as their feet hit the ground, my little ones found things so extraordinary they had to stop and show me, show each other, and (for those able to voice questions) ask me about them.
I’m someone who doesn’t like to press pause and have a tendency to rush through life, always trying to get to the next thing. My daughters had different plans, and I’m forever grateful because seeing the world through their eyes, with appreciation, awe, curiosity, and gratitude was a return to wonder, to amazement at a sprouting acorn, a trail of ants, a puddle, a group of earthworms, a stranger wearing red and purple.
My young daughters taught me how to find the extraordinary in our everyday walk. To stop focusing on how fast I was moving or how much ground we covered and instead turn my gaze to the amazing world and people all around me.
In my writing practice, I ask my inner child to come out and help me find and write about the extraordinary at least once a week. For me, it’s also a form of gratitude practice because I cannot help but be grateful whenever I stop to notice the strange and wondrous things that surround me all the time.
Here are a few prompts to help you find and write about the extraordinary:
Modern scientists believe humans are the only animal on Earth that cries - think about a time you cried and write about how extraordinary it is that you could do so
Think about a tool you use every day (e.g., can opener, computer, hair dryer) and consider what makes it extraordinary
Did you know that humans, apes, and rats are the only known creatures on Earth that can laugh? Write about laughter and its extraordinary power to change how you feel