how to be good at what you do: serendipity

21 July, 2010

The last of our lessons from the world of quantum physics: trust to serendipity to some degree; that you might pick up or generate the right idea at the right time.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot and although the terms are different, I think it’s true for writing. It’s hard to talk about inspiration without sounding weird, but the fact is, when you’re sitting down to write you need to have been grabbed by a thought or an image or an idea that you feel you need to grapple with; and those thoughts or ideas tend to emerge or come to you as gifts rather than the kind of thing you can consciously generate. So in writing there’s always going to be this kind of trusting – that something will come to you, one way or another.

The last week or so I’ve been reading Dorothea Brande’s 1934 book Becoming a Writer, which was given to me at the beginning of the course but which I’ve only just started reading. It’s not a ‘how-to’ book; in the introduction she writes that there are thousands of books and courses out there that can teach you plot and characterisation and so on, but what people need first is to learn to cultivate the habit of being a writer. Her main idea is that a writer is someone who can successfully manage the unconscious side of their personality (the spontaneous, childlike, wondering, imaginative side – where the ideas come from) as well as the conscious side (analytical, editorial, organised – which actually gets things done). You need both, but ‘in the ascendant’ at different times, to write well. I think there’s a lot of truth to what she says, and so I’ve been following her two main exercises, the first of which involves learning to draw on your unconscious – which is a way of trusting, I suppose. And that trusting is also remarkably freeing.

This post brought to you by good friends, summer heat and g&ts


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2 Responses to “how to be good at what you do: serendipity”

  1. sarah kift said

    Here’s to summer heat and G&Ts! Lovely post. Fantastic afternoon.

  2. […] there’s not much coming my way to write about (my own reading and gems from physicists aside). Time’s running through my fingers and it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. That said […]

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