Serendipity Wednesday – Dust Motes and Wonder

Picture courtesy of Vivienne Tuffnell
Picture courtesy of Vivienne Tuffnell

My last post mentioned the Serendipity of social media and the internet and the interesting, informative and wondrous aspects of life it can put us in touch with. Having been working through some difficult times I’ve come to realise that Serendipity can be a source of great comfort and inspiration, bolstering resilience and nurturing spirit when life throws rubbish at you. Amidst the difficult there are always, in this world, glorious and astounding things that can reach through and set the heart beating fast once more.

Help, Thanks, Wow

Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow is a book for those who are flailing in times of crisis. In the Help section she says “There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making.” Whether you are religious or not you can just stop and utter that word, that prayer to the universe ‘Help’. Things may or may not work out but you can just wait and know that the universe, or friends, or beauty will give you something, some kind of sustenance, some kind of peace. (You can read an excerpt here

The ‘Thank’ element of her book is one we’re familiar with. A philosophy of gratitude or marking the positives in our lives and relationships and exchanges helps to slant our worldview back towards the hopeful. The Wow part of her books is what I’m talking about here with this idea of Serendipity, where serendipity is the lucky happenstance that reveals the worlds wonders to us. It has elements of surprise, awe, luck, appreciation and excitement. Again, it enlivens the blood.

Wonders found through Serendipity

Throughout our lives we all happen upon fascination, either on line or in the ‘real’ world. In newspapers, in the street, in the homes of our friends and family, in the garden, on trips abroad. We hear of astounding medical miracles, we hear of bad luck made good, or we watch extraordinary nature programs or visit astounding caves or gorgeous national parks. We hear gorgeous music, admire art and fashion, taste incredible food, watch movies that change our lives, read books that enter our blood.

And chains begin, an artist who learned from another, a collaboration between a singer and an author, a book that refers to another, an artist, or musician or author or scientist or doctor or architect whose work fires up something in you or speaks to you and leads you down the path of their work and thus to their influences, opening and opening up the world further and further.

At the moment I am in the world of my ongoing novel Eat! It’s core theme is how we fill the spaces of loss and need within us in different, somethings unhealthy, poignant ways. Secondly I’m seeing how as we become more and more ‘inside people’ the comfort and intimacy we have with nature is lost. As a child who grew up with an intimate knowledge of my local landscape, I can see how, living in increasingly urban areas, my children do not have the same intimacy and knowledge of the natural landscape – although of course they are more au fait with their landscape of concrete and brick. Some of my characters explore a yearning to get back into the natural landscape while others shy away from it within the backdrop of the recent housing boom, where ‘buildings sprung up from the ground, rampant like weeds.’


But I ramble, like a rambler on hills…My serendipity in exploring the themes of my book began with my discovery in a newspaper of a review of Robert MacFarlane’s book Landmarks, whose aim is to create a glossary of words for nature, words that are beginning to be lost, words that help provide us with that intimacy with the natural world which many of us are losing. I will save the details for another post but this book has put me in touch with many other books on the same theme and thus has already deepened and informed my exploration of this natural theme.

To bring it back full circle (as I love to do). My Serendipity posts each Wednesday will share with you fascinating books, articles, sites, places I have found by chance conversations or browsing (both online and offline). I would also beseech you to share your fascinating finds in the comments, things wondrous and beguiling that might inspire and uplift others.

The Dust Motes Appreciation Society

In the spirit of serendipity and wonder, I recently set up on Facebook, The Dust Motes Appreciation Society. Originally a reaction to a literary editor’s wry exasperation with the number of dust mote mentions in short stories, I wanted to celebrate bothe the beauty and metaphoric power of dust motes. The aim of the society is to share appreciation for everything tiny and wondrous in the universe, particles, petals and persons and to celebrate dust mote mentions and appearances in literature and art. In practice it means that the page is a place that you can go throughout the week to find inspiration, wonder and joy.

The Dust Motes Appreciation Society

Don’t forget also that the Head Above Water Facebook page has more regular posts and links to inspiring articles on writing, creativity, resilience and mental health than I’m able to provide here.

Links to creativity and resilience

Head above Water

I hope you explore some of the books and pages I’ve mentioned here which will lead you to further wonders. I look forward to the fascinating links, articles, books, movies, programmes and so on that you can share with us that will enhance all our experiences. Thanks so much.

31 Days: Incubation and how to find your novel’s Eureka moment

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

To receive all the 31 posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. On twitter it’s at @31HAW or @alisonwells. Hashtag  #31haw and #headabovewater.


We’ve all heard of the famous Eureka moment when Archimedes was said to have stepped into a bath and realised how to calculate the volume of irregular objects (since the volume of water displaced was the same as their volume.) Apparently he jumped out of the bath and ran down the streets of Syracuse naked.

You might not want to do just that but writers, especially of longer works are often faced with knotty problems that sometimes are not easily solved. Writer’s sometimes describe themselves as plotters or pantser (making it up as they go along) but in any creative endeavour there are often elements that need to slot into place before the whole makes a leap forward and becomes something cohesive and multi-layered.

We’ve talked already, and you’ve given your own examples about how walking and running can aid in the process of untangling plot points and forming new ideas. We’ve heard how novelist John Boyne found a whole plot within an hours walk.

When we are busy and addled, how can we find the space in our heads to let innovative connections form, and pieces of the puzzle fit? The tunnel vision of stress counteracts the creative process, also focus and absorption can help it. Repetitive and somewhat mindless activities such as brushing the floor or cleaning windows might free the mind (a good reason to do housework!).


The unconscious process which engenders our best ideas is called psychologists term incubation. I’ve blogged at length about incubation in a previous post, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. I said…

Psychological research has identified incubation as one of the key elements in creativity. Incubation is defined as ‘a process of unconscious recombination of thought elements that were stimulated through conscious work at one point in time, resulting in novel ideas at some later point in time’ [2]. Seabrook Rachel, Dienes Zoltan (2003). Incubation in Problem Solving as a context Effect (Wiki)

Incubation is the period between your conscious and practical outlining of your piece and the point where you come up with the hook or the usual slant on your proposed story. It’s the time when all your ideas mingle and coalesce and form unusual associations.

Please go on to read the full Incubation post here

Our slightly geeky and aspergian family tremendously enjoys the comedy show The Big Bang Theory. In this clip, Sheldon, the ‘genius’ physicist takes on what he considers a ‘mind numbing, pedestrian job,’ in order to give space to his musings on a physics problem. Worth a look!


Which activities have helped you incubate and find your Eureka moments? Let us know in the comments.

Flash fiction Creative Comp

Don’t forget the 31/131 word creative challenge. Winners will be chosen Sunday 5th. Please comment on your favourite entries. Thank you!

Don’t Panic: Slow writing in the new publishing landscape

Many movements have taken on the concept of slow, the most prominent being the Slow Food movement. The idea of slow is to take more time, to deliberate more, to savour, to give depths to moments of endeavour and enjoyment. This idea has much in common with the concept of mindfulness, an attentive awareness of experiences in the present moment, a concept that is rooted in the Buddhist tradition and a technique that is being used more and more in alleviating mental health issues.

In many ways mindfulness and the concept of slow is the opposite of panic and the manic. James Gleick’s book Faster explores the science and issues around our perception of time and it’s lack. I’m of an age and background where I once lived a slow life (sometimes too slow!) and am now embracing the fast technologies and communication methods of this technological era. My children don’t know any different, sometimes I need to help them be bored.

How does this relate to writing? Well I must admit I’m writing this as a backlash to a rather frenetic week following the online launch of my book. I’ve become aware of some of the realities of what’s going on in the self-publishing world but also in the traditional publishing arena as well. There seems to be this push in certain quarters in order to make a ‘success’ of self-publishing to suggest that we need to be churning out several books a year. Similarly I read of a high profile thriller writer who is a marketing entity with co-authors who write many of the books. Perhaps I shouldn’t jump the other way. It’s one way of doing things and many people get pleasure from these series of books. My other experience of fast was that of KDP Select free days where self-published writers vye, giving their book away for free to get into the top rankings on Amazon in order to gain visibility and sales. It all seems a bit manic and crazy although it has been successful for some.

I don’t want to be naïve but on a personal level I want to write books that are layered and well thought out. I want to develop trust with my readers and offer them quality and an enduring experience when they read my books. I am short of time like everyone. I have a young family and constant interruptions of the kind of slow musings that are necessary to make original connections and find new ways of saying old things. But I want to try. I want to stop and make time for research. I want to let books simmer over years until I’ve found the right way of saying something. This balanced with the knowledge that sometimes you need to start writing to find a way into a piece and this tempered with the reality that you need to write regularly just to practise and to give yourself the clay to work with. It’s all about that balance. If feeling panicked and under pressure, particularly when you see the achievements of others, that is just the time to stop and wait and find out what you really want to write, not what you should write. By forcing and pushing we can end up hating our writing and the book we are working on. It’s our mind’s way of telling us that we need more time to dwell and deliberate. Maybe it means we wait before we send off our manuscripts and we can look one more time on the finished product with clarity and this is particularly important when self-publishing. Not just anything will do. Even if we hire an editor we may not get the same heavy level of editor involvement in our product, we need to go slowly to get it right.

This is the first of a series I’ll write about slow. And in doing so I’ll also celebrate the fast, the quick connections, the times when we can find fast answers when we need them, check in with other writers on Twitter for a quick motivation fix. But I want to find a way to get the panic out of writing in this publishing landscape that is new and challenging. I want to find ways that quality can prevail and ways that the writer can stay sane as they pursue the endeavour they love.