Synchronicity [sing-kruh-nis-i-tee] is a concept developed by psychiatrist Carl Jung, who felt that it was possible for seemingly unrelated events to come together in “meaningful coincidences.” In his book by the same title, he told of a patient who seemed to reach an impasse and was making no further progress in treatment. During a session, she told him she’d had a dream about someone giving her a golden scarab, an expensive piece of jewelry. While she was talking, Jung heard a tapping on his window behind him, opened it and a large green-gold scarab beetle flew in. Jung caught it and handed it to the woman, saying, “Here is your scarab,” and from that point on, she made great progress in her treatment.
The novel I’ve been working on concerns a young woman who inadvertently ends up being the primary caretaker of her elderly aunt who has Alzheimer’s. After the death of the aunt, the woman uncovers family secrets that change her perception of most of what she thought she knew. I’m to the point in the book where I’m about ready to kill off the aunt. No, I won’t murder her; she dies of natural causes, but I was struggling with whether or not the timing was right. I felt like I wanted to provide a bit more substance before the aunt’s death, but I wasn’t sure what that substance would be. My writing stalled.
Enter Netflix. I still do the old mail service (just have never taken the time to learn the ins and outs of streaming), so I got a movie in the mail. Now I’ve got over 100 movies on my list, most of them taking their time making their way up to the top as I continue to add new releases to the head of the line. Because of that, I’m never quite sure what movie is coming next.
The one I got is called Alive Inside. It’s a documentary about a man who discovered that he could stir Alzheimer’s patients from near comatose conditions to singing, dancing, and talking simply by creating personal playlists for them and providing them with iPods and headphones. A man named Henry who sat all day with his head down, eyes tightly closed, never speaking, burst into song with eyes wide open and a huge grin on his face. Other patients who sagged hopelessly in wheel chairs, eyes glazed over with boredom and resignation, sat up, smiled, began to move with the music, and cried. It was absolutely amazing the change that came over people, and it was instantaneous. There’s a six-minute excerpt of the movie on YouTube showing Henry’s transformation here.
You can guess where this is leading. I now have the substance I needed for the interim part of my book. No, I’m not going to have my main character make fabulous inroads with the aunt via music, but watching the movie gave me enough information and inspiration to fill in what I need.
We talk so much here about how to write and how to do it well, yet all the education and training and experience in the world can’t hold a candle to synchronicity. Synchronicity is that wonderfully serendipitous act that brings two wildly disparate ideas together in a fiery collision that sparks our work in ways nothing else could. Synchronicity is undeserved good luck, it is God’s grace, it is frickin’ magic. It is the impetus that boosts our work from ho-hum to WOW!
Who would guess that a chance movie from Netflix would give me not only the idea I needed but the accompanying soulful emotion for the backdrop of that idea as well? Who would guess that the appearance of a beetle could provide the breakthrough for a woman’s mental health and growth? The amazing thing about synchronicity is the timing. It provides for an object or an event which at any other time would be viewed as mundane, inane, unremarkable, and altogether forgettable, yet at that moment in time it becomes meaningful in a highly impactful way. And that, I believe, is what we all hope our writing will be infused with: meaning.
I know I’m not the only one who’s ever experienced synchronicity in their writing. What about you? When have you had an idea pop out at you from something totally unrelated? When have you struggled with a story, only to have it served up to you with the soup for lunch? When has meaning come at you like a curveball from out of the blue? That’s synchronicity in action. All we have to do is catch it and inject it into our writing.
22 thoughts on “Synchronicity: Finding Meaning in Writing”
I’m not sure how far I’d have to stretch so say I’ve experienced this but the idea doesn’t surprise me. Is it coincidence? Nah… 🙂
Coincidence? What’s that?
What an AWESOME Post!!! Thanks SO much. I try to work in symbols and synchronicities all the time in my fiction, BUT THIS TIME? Have an old friend with Alzheimers and I’m going to MAKE SURE his wife and daughter know about this! Art, life and all that!.
Glad it’s helpful, Teresa. Looks like the synchronicity is going to extend far beyond just my book. That movie is absolutely awesome.
You know that saying, “S*** Happens?” Well, Synchronicity Happens, too. I personally don’t think it’s because of anything supernatural, but simply some natural process we don’t understand yet, perhaps having to do with consciousness and the nature of time.
I’ve seen people in a nursing home who couldn’t speak, but if you played and sang songs they were familiar with, they could sing the words perfectly. Beautiful.
Your book sounds like another winner.
I agree, Candace. I believe there are places and processes in the mind that we are nowhere near understanding yet. That’s what makes their functioning seem so magical. Thanks for commenting.
As I was preparing to set a book on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation a couple of years ago, I was browsing at my favorite used bookstore and found a book I’d never heard of, by an author who had lived among the Lakota. That book provided me with almost all of the details I needed for my story. So yes, I believe in synchronicity. 🙂 Great post, Melissa!
Thanks, Lynne. Love it when stuff like that happens!
Great post, Melissa. I totally believe in synchronicity, because I’ve seen it happen in my own work many times. I’ve had characters I’m writing literally walk into my life, songs and movies that popped up and inspired or echoed themes. It’s pretty amazing. Maybe I was so tuned in to the work I was seeing symbolism where otherwise I wouldn’t, but I like to think there was something larger afoot.
Larger, indeed, Laurie. One time I had a hypnotherapy client who wasn’t all that convinced I could help him, but when he walked into my house, the first thing he saw was a painting of an Indian woman, and he said he had seen the same woman in a dream. Needless to say, we got along well. You just never know what things are going to come together to create or intensify what’s already there.
Actually, I did some research on this in grad school — creative people by nature OFTEN have these moments of synchronicity because they pay attention outside of their immediate field of interest. They draw ideas and inspiration from unrelated fields and experiences, often combining them in unique ways. A more plodding therapist wouldn’t have connected that insect to his patient’s dream and then used it to spark something in her. Those of us who are religious may feel that God is at work, because it does have the feeling of being a gift, a kind of grace that is bestowed on us. But in any case, creative people (in every field, not just writing) are people who habitually seek out and then do something with these moments. This is why the most creative ideas often come from people who work across disciplines rather than becoming experts in just one. Another good reason for the day job, perhaps. 🙂
Sandra, thanks so much for adding to (and deepening) the discussion. Interesting, and yet perhaps not so surprising. I agree, I think we creative types are more open to the suggestions that might come from disparate places. Every time I get asked where I get my inspiration from, I say: Everywhere! Literally.
Story ideas have popped into my head while I’m engaged in a variety of non-literary activities; everything from eating to showering. Yes, I’ve awoken in the middle of the night, when some new individual I’ve never met before forces their way into my slumbering sub-conscious to tell me their tale. But it’s often when I’m wide awake that these people come forward. Only my fellow scribes truly understand and can empathize. Other folks think I’m strange and quirky, which is actually a compliment that – deep inside – makes me feel warm and wholesome.
On a side note, I’ve heard of the music therapy before. I saw a program on PBS some 20 years ago on how it was being used to treat people with traumatic brain injuries or various types of illnesses. Something about the rhythm of the music freed their minds, and – if only for a little while – they were able to communicate with those around them. It’s a truly incredible concept.
Alejandro, in the movie, they talk about the music coming through a “back door” of the brain, perhaps slipping around behind the cognitive centers that we would normally try to access. What has always amazed me is how much music captivates and moves us, as if we are hard-wired for it, yet music does not exist in nature. Maybe because of that, we had to invent it. It’s a fascinating subject. Thanks for commenting.
Great article Melissa. Yes, I get this quite often and it can take one in unexpected and exciting directions, not just in writing, but in life.
I remember reading about the Jung’s scarab when studying psychology in the university. On the way back from the library that afternoon there was one sitting on my doorstep when I get home. A lot of things fell into place that day and made sense of the jumble in my head.
Yep, synchronicity works. 🙂
Ian, how cool that were able to carry that quintessential story of synchronicity into your own life. I’m jealous. It really is amazing how something as obscure as that can make things come together in our minds and provide new pathways. Thanks for sharing that!
An absolutely delightful post! So much of our everyday life is filled with serendipity. It’s the unseen glue that ties it all together. Call it karma, call it synchronicity, call it whatever you will. It’s what makes life so meaningful in so many delightful little ways. For me, the most profound example of this phenomena was when I finished writing my first novel, Escaping Innocence: A Story of Awakening. It was the culmination of twenty-plus years of self examination of my coming-of-age, and I was burned out. I wanted to try something completely different, so I thought I’d write a murder mystery. The only problem was that I had absolutely no idea for a plot. Then, magically (serendipitously, if you will) the often-quoted line, “It was a dark and stormy night” popped into my head, and I was off to the races. The result was As the Twig is Bent, which became the foundation for an entire series. Without that synchronicity, I might still be stuck in front of my computer, waiting for that elusive spark.
I really enjoyed your post!
Thanks, Joe. I love stories like that. And what strikes me the most is that with those sparks of synchronicity (or serendipity), if the trigger (the scarab, the line) had appeared the day before, we probably wouldn’t even have noticed, it wouldn’t even have registered in our consciousness. But when the time is right and we’re ready for a little magic–voila! The universe provides.
This just goes to demonstrate the veracity of the old oriental proverb which says that unless you are ready for an experience its essence will probably escape your attention and you’ll miss it. 🙂
Some pundit once said that creativity is taking two things and putting them together in a way that has never been done before. I think our brains spend a lot of time trying to make sense of senseless things. When they hit on something that actually fits, we have the “eureka!” moment.
And, if we’re really lucky, it works in a story 🙂
A novel I wrote once that I may publish some day involves putting together two eras that were 2500 years apart in real human history, but had one common element that permeated both. How did I put them together? No idea. It just came to me.
Sounds fascinating, Gordon. I’d like to see you publish it.
Cooking a good dish takes time and patience (along with the skill). So it is with writing. Your two ingredients have half come together; now you have to wait for the dis to simmer awhile. When it’s ready, they’ll come blend and make the dish (your book) complete. 🙂
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