Small things can be important too.

Sometimes, I sweat for an hour over a paragraph, a line of dialogue, a single word. Heaven's Gate by Michael Cimino - small things matter

I’ve known comedy writers argue for ages over whether the number 35 is funnier than the number 41.

And businesspeople fight to ensure that the new product is built to precisely the right spec.

Does it really matter? Does anyone really notice?

A small story about small things

I help run some local gardens, in which there’s a children’s playground. I think the people who use the gardens think it’s run by this big rich company, when in fact everyone works for free.

As a result, a few of the users leave the place in a mess. Toys tipped upside down. Rubbish left for some imaginary cleaner to clear away.

This week, I was having a walk in the sunshine and got talking to a mother who’d brought her toddler to the playground.

I thought about bringing up the fact that people should take responsibility for helping keep the place neat, but almost chickened out. I didn’t want to be confrontational.

Or pernickety.

In the end, I kept the tone neutral. I mentioned that some people think there’s a rich company behind it, whereas in fact everyone is a volunteer – and asked her simply to spread the word to other mothers that she might meet there.

Two hours later, I took a break from writing and walked round the gardens again.

The mother and toddler had gone – and all the toys had been neatly tidied and lined up.

Since then, I’ve noticed others have done the same.

Letting go or holding on?

It’s easy to let small things go, afraid of mentioning them for fear of seeming fussy or confrontational.

Sure, finding the right adjective for the hero’s jacket isn’t going to solve a massive hole in the plot or make us believe an unbelievable motivation.

And if you’re spending five years polishing your ms to a fine shine, you are probably procrastinating.

The biggest mistake people make – and not just creative people – is to hang onto something when they should finish it, warts and all, and move on to the next.

But, on the other hand, maybe the colour of the hero’s jacket, pinned down with precisely the right word, is exactly what the novel needs at that point.

Caring about quality

I remember reading about the making of Michael Cimino’s epic movie, Heaven’s Gate. Two special effects artists were complaining about Cimino, who demanded retake after retake of a series of complicated explosions.

A year later, they were working on another movie, where they were never asked to do anything twice.

They agreed, in hindsight, they missed being on a set where someone cared about the quality of the work they did.

It’s all too easy to assume small things don’t matter.

(Post script: Of course, Heaven’s Gate was a financial disaster – but a critical success. The big things do matter too. But not always in the way we expect).