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Serendipity and Writing Careers


My last blog post dealt with issues raised by letting people at work know you are a writer, but one thing I did not touch on in that post is the role serendipity--luck, fate, coincidence, whatever you may call it--can have on your writing career. Actors are very familiar with this topic. Whether "discovered" by a talent scout in a drugstore or getting a plum role because the first choice backed out because of other commitments (Sean Connery as James Bond; Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones), there can be a lot of collateral impact from simply being at the right place at the right time. Of course, they say that luck favors the prepared. So if your co-workers or your friends or others don't know you are a writer, they won't know to pass on interesting opportunities to you or happen to have your latest book on their desk or coffee table when important-person-who-can-change-your-life happens by. And you can never tell when such things might occur. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they just tantalize you a bit and slide into the night. For example, I was in my office at work one day many years ago when I got a call from another attorney in my office. I knew her, but not well, as she worked on a different floor and in a different department. I picked up the phone and she said: "You write science fiction, don't you?" "Yes." "Well, I don't know if you know, but I'm currently living with [reasonably well-known, older actor--let's call him "Jerry"] and he's got some friends who are putting together a pitch for a television show and they need some fake science for it. Can you create some fake science?" Ok, so fake science is not exactly my definition of science fiction, but my adrenaline was already beginning to pump, so I uttered a sentence that I never would have guessed I would utter that day or at my office to another lawyer: "Sure. I created an entire branch of fake science, Neo-PsychoPhysics, for the time travel game system that I own and write for. I know all about writing fake science." "Well, you should connect with Jerry and talk about this." "That's great. But I can't do that this week because I am leaving for LA tomorrow for about a week on something else." "No problem. Jerry's in LA right now. Would it be okay if he sets up a lunch with him and you and his friends with the pilot idea?" And so it was that a recognizable Hollywood actor showed up several days later at the lobby of my hotel with two Hollywood contacts with an idea for a new pilot, and we wandered off to lunch. While nibbling on over-priced salads and sandwiches, they told me about their base idea and the two main characters. For my part, I did my best to act professional as I babbled on a bit about creating fake science and my writing background. I took notes and they asked if I could flesh out their concept with some fake science, outline a pilot episode, give them a few ideas for subsequent episodes, and get back to them in a week or so. There was also a certain amount of name-dropping as to who should be approached to pitch the project. As things were breaking up, Jerry pulled me aside and said to make sure to copy him in all my communications with the other guys and he would make sure to protect me. So I wrote up a short treatment for a television pilot. I renamed the concept, added subsidiary characters (with backstory), described the main "scientific" set, created some devices that would plausibly convey to the viewers how the science worked but not distract from the acting or functioning of the plot, created some terminology and catch phrases that could be used to reference the science and equipment, outlined (with sample dialogue) the pilot, and gave brief descriptions of three or four other episodes and broader story arcs that could be used to develop the concept beyond the early, episodic, shows. I'm not going to say much more about the concept, except that it was, in-essence a procedural, but not one about cops, lawyers, or hospitals. It was also, in some ways, ahead of its time and, I think, pretty cool. It could still work today--nothing similar has showed up on TV in the meantime. Of course, the fact that I'm not writing this as residuals flow effortlessly into my bank account is a tip-off that the project never went anywhere. There were some emails for awhile, but they dwindled off. So this particular piece of serendipity never paid off, except that I got a cool story out of it and at least one or two people in Hollywood might know who I am. But there have been other, smaller, serendipitous connections that have paid off in the past and I suspect there will be other, bigger, ones that will occur in the future. The key is to be ready to seize those opportunities, to have multiple projects, ideas, and stories to pitch whenever you might get a chance to do so unexpectedly, to push yourself to try things outside of your comfort zone, and to improve your skills as a writer so you will meet the test when it comes. I've written stories in genres that I never imagined myself writing (Transformers tie-in, romance, steampunk, etc.) because I was willing to stretch my boundaries on short notice and perform. Be ready to do the same. Any serendipity in your career you would like to share? As always, let me know your thoughts. Don

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