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…