Some preliminary demystification

1.5 There is no writing cop

We hope by now you are beginning to feel less daunted by the task ahead; that you are beginning to understand that a lot of the magic is achieved by hard work using working methods that you too can employ. If there is a secret to writing it is, perhaps, that there is no secret, just ordinary people with talent in varying degrees married to a great deal of determination.

Very often, the finest writing emerges unexpectedly as part of the process of writing. Not intended, it can be the result of happy discovery, the result of chance or serendipity. The trick is to make use of whatever comes your way and make the serendipity look intentional. Consider the following allegory of novel-writing which elucidates this principle:

Imagine your novel as a voyage to Australia. You acquire a ship and hire a crew; you spend months in port tarring and caulking and provisioning; and then finally, one day, you set sail. During the voyage, some of the crew swap jobs; some are promoted; some are born; and some are thrown overboard. The ship steers a wayward course, beset by typhoons and sea monsters. After countless months of hardship you land on the shores of a beautiful, honey-dripping paradise. It is wonderful and it is called ... Brazil. OK, it’s a long way from Australia, but it seems just as nice. So now you go back and rewrite the ship’s log and make it seem that you always intended sailing to Brazil. That is how you write a novel.

Yes, writers may look like Olympians from afar, but their waste-paper bins tell a different story.

Group activity: Serendipity

For this exercise we would like you to search around novels you own or in Project Gutenberg and choose a short passage from a novel. It can be any novel you like. Next, choose a news item from the newspaper or any current source of news. Then rewrite the passage from the novel to incorporate the news item as seamlessly as you can.

Once you are happy with the result, post it to the Serendipity forum. See if you can guess from the other students which snippet of news they added to their chosen passage.

To give you an idea, here is a passage from Moby Dick that we have changed. It has been rewritten to incorporate the gist of a newspaper article about the benefits of Omega 3 fish oils for children.

Certain I am, however, that a king's head is solemnly oiled at his coronation, even as a head of salad. Can it be, though, that they anoint it with a view of making its interior run well, as they anoint machinery? Much might be ruminated here, concerning the essential dignity of this regal process, because in common life we esteem but meanly and contemptibly a fellow who anoints his hair, and palpably smells of that anointing. In truth, a mature man who uses hair-oil has probably got a quoggy spot in him, unless the oil be taken medicinally to improve his brains, or administered to the diet of his children for the same purpose, in accordance with directives laid down by the wise Hippocrates.

But the only thing to be considered here, is this – what kind of oil is used at coronations? Certainly it cannot be olive oil, nor macassar oil, nor castor oil, nor bear's oil, nor train oil, nor cod-liver oil. What then can it possibly be, but sperm oil in its unmanufactured, unpolluted state, the sweetest of all oils?

Think of that, ye loyal Britons! we whalemen supply your kings and queens with coronation stuff!

Melville, H., Moby Dick