Serendipity, Sakura, and the “Scribblers”


I am averaging about a post a month since I created this new blog. Ideas roil in my mind; I catch a small one and pin it to a page of notes; I let the rest flutter into the rosemary bush. But today I am inspired again by writer and blogger Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch. This week’s theme is serendipity, but as always with Charli, other deep currents call for reflection. I resonated deeply with her reflections on taking the necessary time with the writing process:

Take action without holding tightly to outcome. Yes, have a goal, a plan of sorts, but keep an open eye to the unexpected. The agent who turns you down might buy you the time you needed to find a different path to publication. Or, in my situation with Miracle of Ducks, I knew something was off with the intro. My editor noted it but beta readers said it was fine. Because I’ve sat on it all summer, when I read the first chapter to my mother-in-law and her twin, it jumped out at me what was wrong. Truly a gift of sight! Sometimes we need to slow down and this process of writing invites us to do it, but we feel impatient. Fill the slow stretches with other projects. Learn to dance with your writing as if it were a life-long partner not some quickie date at the nightclub.

In my work on a re-write of a book for a retired neurosurgeon (coming on three years now), this slowing down is what I have had to accept. I feel pressure to deliver a completed project, and yet, I have discovered that stretches away from the book give me a fresh and much-needed perspective. These breaks allow me to work out, in those quiet moments while washing dishes or walking or watering the plants, the changes I know are necessary in my experiment with “genre metamorphosis,” that is, transforming my client’s completed life story into a commercially viable medical memoir. There’s much more to Charli’s post today, but her thoughts on writing triggered a long reflection on process, and resulted in a separate post on how that has developed with my current project.

Is Serendipity What You Make It?

But back to serendipity. Defined as a “pleasant happenstance” or “pleasant surprise,” the word has only been in use since 1754, and it rings with the fascination the British had for the exotic lands they so avariciously set out to possess. The English earl Horace Walpole coined the word from the place name Serendip, or Ceylon, inspired by characters in a fabled tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, that were always “making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”

We often use this word as a synonym for luck or chance. Of the former word, we often like to say that we make our own luck, and of the latter, that chance favors the prepared mind. It’s with those qualifiers in mind that I think of my own serendipity when it comes to writing. While we may not always see it when it arrives (take Charli’s example of being turned down by one agent as the avenue for another to open the door) or be prepared to accept the prize it brings, it seems in some ways that serendipity may very well be what Walpole originally intimated when he made up the word: equal parts accident and sagacity—or at least sagacity’s low-heeled but respectable cousin, preparedness.

Serendipity and the Writing Group

It was in some ways preparedness that brought me my own serendipitous moment, which came in the form of the flame-haired friend I call Sakura (cherry blossom in Japanese). I met Sakura some four years ago when my sister and I formed a small writing group we called “The Scribblers,” each of us inviting one writing friend to join us. Sakura was then the senior editor at the publication department of the top neurosurgical institute where the man who became my client, Dr. S., had built an illustrious and game-changing career in spinal neurosurgery. A shrewd and gifted science editor, Sakura is also a writer of sensuous and intelligent poetry, one whose high Romantic sensibilities immediately found resonance with my own, and whom I could easily imagine inhabiting Paris in the 20s or the island of Lesbos in the time of Sappho.

Dr. S. had been pestering Sakura for some time with the proposal that she help him write a book. That’s just what my overworked friend wanted to do after editing the dense and convoluted prose of a gaggle of brilliant demigods all day. She had declined, but now, the small size of our group allowing her to become familiar with both my abilities and my dissatisfaction with my job as an academic program director, a kernel of an idea popped in her head. Might she be able to provide a solution to both Dr. S.’s predicament and my own? Six months after meeting Sakura, I quit my day job to take on the project she had declined.

Now, it was serendipitous indeed that I met Sakura. It was serendipitous that I met her at a particular time—just as Dr. S. was intensifying his search for someone to help him with his book. Certainly the opportunity to quit my day job and delve into a full-time writing life was a “happy accident” that I was not consciously “in quest of.” But wasn’t there also some preparedness in the turn of events? Some sagacity in having committed to participating in the writing group to begin with? In seeding the bed in which a writing life might take root and grow? I dare say there was.

A Flash Memoir on Serendipity

The above ruminations were sparked by Charli Mills’s weekly flash fiction challenge at Carrot Ranch. Here’s the prompt:

October 14, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that reveals or explores a moment of serendipity. How did it come about? What did it lead to? You can express a character’s view of the moment or on serendipity in general. Use the element of surprise or show how it is unexpected or accidentally good.

My phone again. A drowned alarm clock palpitating in my purse. No doubt Jill. The dean and her urgencies. Fuck this 24/7 access!

Driving back from lunch. Fumbling for the squawking little warden in my bag. I’ll die in my car some day, I think. Dammit! Missed it. No, the predictable whistle of a text message. Immediacy is Jill’s mantra.

But it’s not Jill. Dear one,” the text reads. “Poss opptnty! Doc needs help w/ book. 30K, maybe more. Talk? Sak

Ahh, sweet little communicator. Cellular herald of new possibilities! Sit in my lap while I ponder the what’s-ahead…





13 thoughts on “Serendipity, Sakura, and the “Scribblers”

  1. I have such beautiful thoughts of that creatively nurtured rosemary plant of yours! Your reflection is full of the passion you have for life, prose and creating your own serendipitous moments. I’m amazed that even a tiny group started by sisters was enough of a seed. How little watering we need when we plant. But the seed that stays in the packet has no chance. Your flash captures it all! I love how your cell phone goes from villain to hero in one text. It really sums up the frustrations of work life with the possibility of pursuing our dreams. I’m so glad you planted that seed!

    1. Ahh, I love my rosemary bushes. We have been renting for the last three years, but still can’t resist putting things in the ground. Along with the two rosemary bushes, we’ve planted two bougainvilleas and have let our elephant plants spill over and root themselves. And that’s not to mention the hundred pots or so with all variety of cactus. How I would love to have more land! Maybe someday. And yes, isn’t the world of gardening such an apt metaphor for writing, and other endeavors in life? That little writing group numbers three now. It had grown to six, but two of the people I brought in developed a strong animosity towards each other. One put out an ultimatum. It was ugly and the group broke up. Now Sakura, Peggy (the sis) and I are loath to expand. Maybe I will blog about writing groups some time. Thanks so much for you comment Charli, and the reflections on my flash. I hate to use the “F” word in writing (I can feel my mother turn in her grave each time I utter or write the word) but it’s authentic, so there you have it. As for planting seeds, yes, let the gardens grow.

      1. Yes, writers embody the spirit of gardeners! Plant a word here, there, watch ideas spill out and take root, looking at the bare ground of a page and thinking, what if…And I do believe things swell out of us we’d not normally claim (f-words and such) but that’s part of the process, too! As long as you know how to orchestrate the end result, it can also have meaning. You definitely should write about that sometimes. Writer’s groups can have oddities that are actually common. Gardeners who struggle to share dirt and roots?

    1. Thanks Anne! I must say Wikipedia makes very light work of research these days, though one must be more selective when there is so much erroneous schlock out there. Very nice to get your comment. I am inspired to be more interactive with your blog, Charli’s and those few other writers who show me the way when I am lost. By the way, I read the first chapter of Sugar and Snails the other day. Well done! I was captivated. I can order the book on this side of the pond I presume. It is on my list for the next batch of books I get.

  2. Thank you for your research on the word serendipity – you have given me cause for thought regarding it and luck/chance. Your experiences with writing groups would be good to read. In the town I used to live in we had a very effective writing group that did in depth critiques of everyone’s work. I have struggled to find another that does anything other than listen to the writer read their piece and then give compliments. I have thought of setting one up but interested to hear what happened in yours and how it worked.
    Your flash gave a good visual of how your serendipity moment happened. Dialogue has to be what you would expect to be said and if that includes a F**k then it has to be there.

    1. Ahh Irene, the writing group. We had such high hopes and in fact my current little group of three tries to follow the original guidelines we put out for effective critiquing, such respecting others’ reactions and comments, not getting personal in the comments; letting each person have their say without interruptions, staying within the time limits on a particular piece…all the things that make the experience effective.It sounds like your experience has been much more rewarding. I hope you find another one, or find committed writers who want to approach the process the same way you do.
      And thanks for the comment on my flash. Now I feel absolved of my sin with the “F” word (anyone raised Catholic is always looking for absolution 🙂 ) All in the name of authenticity…but beware gratuitous use for lack of another word!

    1. Thanks Norah. I appreciate the feedback. Yes, the ending was happier than those on some of my flashes, hopefully expressing what bi-polar emotions our electronic gadgets provoke. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  3. Love reading about how you came to write for your Doctor Jeanne, and your flash caught this perfectly. I read the other comments here, and yes, I know just what you mean about using the ‘F’ word. I’ve used the odd swear word in my flashes as you know, thinking it was necessary as that is how that person would talk and/or think at that moment. I made it mission not to swear on my blog (I’ve read others that use the ‘F’ word like you and I use ‘Thank You’), but there are times sometimes, such as here, that it adds depth and reality. Speaking of which, I use it a fair bit in my memoir, have to. Young people in the 70’s, talking, there is anger, rage, fear. It would not be authentic without it…
    And I get how you need to let your story simmer. I am on the same path, desperate to get my memoir written, yet having to put it aside (blaming, not always fairly, life distractions) but knowing that I need to be able to do this, to get it, as you say, into a marketable form.
    Again, as with everyone else, thank you for explaining the background to ‘serendipty’, very interesting. It’s great how Charli gets us thinking isn’t it? I love the depth behind her prompts and how she challenges us to think and write deeper. Yet there I am being a bit silly at the moment with Fred and Ethel, but it feels right for now. Some light relief after the heaviness of memoir, in parts. We also share a love of gardening (love rosemary!) and nothing is so therapuetic as working and puttering there to let our words mull and stew. I just got my winter baskets and pots out with narcissus bulbs hoping to poke through the cyclamen, heather and violas in the winter months. Wonderful post Jeanne, thank you for sharing your heart with us in such a beautiful way. Oh…one more thing! Ha…see how I flit around! Writing groups: I’ve never been in one, and for all the reasons you state. I’ve been in too many other groups over the years (bible studies, committes, PTA, etc. etc.) and the same thing happens every single time, people with their own agendas, jealousy, excuses to gossip and pull others down. If you have a small, tight group that works and is based on trust and friendship and the ability to really share productively, then how wonderful. Perhaps I shall find that one day, but I haven’t been looking as I have my writing group right here and will keep it that way for now. I love the story of Sakura and Serendipty and I am so glad that you have your little group that works for you 🙂

    1. Hi again Sherri. Must add here one other consideration about writing groups. My husband and I frequently debate their usefulness in actually pushing one’s writing along. For him they are a waste of time; writing is a solitary activity, he claims, and thre’s no getting around that. It is very hard to argue with him. He sits at his desk every morning from 7-noon or 1:00 pm and writes. And to tell the truth, sometimes my little group shaves off the first hour for wine and catching up. But then, we get down to work, and often share samples through email. I guess we all have to decide what works best. I cannot argue though against the idea that what is essential is the actual hard work of writing! Aboutthe “f” word, I think I have made my peace with it. I agree, anyone our age or younger is pretty much inured to seeing it in print. I do have an overuse of it. It jsut doesn’t have the power of a really broad command of vocabulary. lastly, you make me very nostalgic for English flowers. We have a very very short season here for narcissus…maybe one month in late winter… and I hve never even attempted cyclamen, though how I love it. That was one of the real delights of living in England for me, experiencing the natural cycle of plants and flowers through the year. How thrilling it was to see the first daffodils and narcissus push up through small patches of snow. Thanks for reminding me of that!

    1. Yes, Back to the Future Day. My husband and I are actually “futurists” people who engage in thinking about the future and attempting to apply tools like foresight and systems thinking etc. to the “wicked problems” facing humanity. We were just at the Arizona chapter meeting of the World Future Society last night. Everyone was atwitter over the date 🙂

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