Monday, November 12, 2007

The serendipity of writing.

I have been thinking this week about serendipity and coincidence when writing and researching novels. The way you stumble across a subject, decide to use it, and suddenly keep finding it everywhere. I don’t want to be too specific, but the novel I have just abandoned (sorry, put aside for now) was partly ditched because another author published a novel with the same premise and the same title. I tried to not let it bother me, but the whole thing just froze me up inside, and I needed something to blame.

I don’t think it’s going to happen again, but after having a new idea my subject matter does seem to be stalking me.

It started one day a few months back when I was searching my bookshelves for something new to read. I acquire books at a greater rate than I read them, so I have hundreds of books on my shelves that I haven’t read, and many of them I have forgotten even buying. I was in the mood for something specific, and the only way I could describe it to myself or anyone else was a “booky, literary, mystery-type-thing”. When I couldn’t find one after scouring high (eight feet high, probably) and low, I realised with a little thrill that I would just have to write something like that myself. That set me on the path to my latest project, for sure. Still starved for the kind of book I was after, I ordered five novels that I liked the look of a few months ago from Amazon (sorry local bookstores, but the exchange rate is excellent at the moment and I am not seeing it reflected in the prices at home).

While waiting for the order to arrive, I had the brainwave for my new novel, in no way related in subject matter to the five books I had just ordered. My protagonist has a specific occupation (lets call her a ‘postman’) and in the novel, a certain object that I had never heard of before until very recently (let’s call it an ‘umbrella’) plays a big part in the story. So the Amazon package arrives and I am happily reading the first novel when unexpectedly, what should turn up, unannounced, but an ‘umbrella’. The book delves right into the history of ‘umbrellas’ and gives many prime and beautiful examples. That book finished, yesterday I randomly picked up the second in the pile of books and lo and behold the first page has the main character delivering letters and sorting mail. He is a postman (you know he’s not really doing things with mail right? That’s just my substitute occupation because I don’t want to reveal what my character really does – I don’t want to jinx it.).

There are many more examples of how I am suddenly being crowded by the very things I am now so interested in (a shop that someone told me about in Melbourne that I decided woudld make a good setting was featured in a short guide to Melbourne in the paper this morning, for instance), but I can see this post will get stuffed full of code-words and it will become completely unintelligible. I will have to revisit the post in a few years when the book is safely written and published and it will make rather a nice story, I think. In the meantime, I have decided not to take all this as a bad sign, but rather one of encouragement. Serendipity rather than unfortunate coincidence. Although I am a bit nervous about reading those other three novels I ordered.


Marianne said...

I'm with you on choosing to see these are serendipidous and positive signs - there is nothing entirely new under the sun. What makes your new book unique is the combination of factors and your brilliant writing.

Anonymous said...

I've heard the term "cognitive emergence" used to describe this phenomenon. I like it because it seems to capture both the fact that X has always been there and that once you are able to name/recognize X it becomes visible everywhere and the fact that because you have an understanding of X something that may previously been completely unrelated has been transformed.

I'm trying to figure out if you are currently an example of this phenomenon.

Rachael King said...

"Cognitive emergence" - I like it! I don't know either whether it describes what's happening to me, but I have certainly experienced moments of cognitive emergence. Thanks for putting a label on it for me.

Anonymous said...

I always liked the term morphic resonance to explain this sort of thing...