Applying the rules of art to writing: embrace the ‘happy accident’

“All forms of painting, film photography, sculpture, printmaking, and non-mechanical modes of production produce unintended results. When a passage of under-painting looks ravishing, or some studio calamity produces an arresting effect, embrace the accident and incorporate it into the piece. Exploit the unexpected consequences of experimentation and process. If you see it, own it.”
Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White

Kit White The same, for me, applies to writing. I particularly love the exploratory process when working on an idea. It could be for a novel or a short story, perhaps a character, or a setting. I enjoy teasing the idea, and this is when free-writing works for me. The majority of what I write goes into a folder marked ‘exercises’ and is used as background, but some pieces find their way into the finished novel. When I am re-drafting, I get a kick when I come to one of these early passages: it reminds me where the idea started, and refreshes my delight in words I wrote months/years previously and have read many times over.

Kit White
‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White [MIT Press] Buy now

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Embrace the happy accident: applying the rules of #art to #writing via @SandraDanby


  1. Such a lovely idea. I had no idea what I was doing, really, when I started my novel, so I wrote each day to writing prompts, directing the free-writes toward specific characters, scenes, plot points. I did this for a few months until the bones of the story developed flesh and I could carry on, following the story and my characters. Eighteen months on, with my eye on starting a new novel, I have a much better feel for storycraft, but still plan to begin with free writing the characters and their backstories, until the story they need me to write shows itself. Lovely, Sandra!

    • Thx Julie. I also learnt a lot from writing my first novel. I am a pretty organised person but learned to start my new novel with exercises and free writing, just to let my characters become themselves then see where they wanted to go. Sounds romantic, but it works for me. Good luck with your 2nd! SD

  2. Nice, I love those accidents that become miracles with writing. In one of my finished books there was a secondary character that became one of the main characters, leading to a sequel. It was completely unexpected. So now a book that was meant to be just one book has turned into a series 🙂

    • Yes, I think in the beginning we are all so focussed on developing characters that we forget to let them breathe. Who knows where they will take us. When I started my first novel, I had no idea it was the first of a series. But Rose showed me that. SD

        • 30+ years as a journalist, then 10 or so trying to write fiction. It’s been a v big learning curve. Short stories published, but no agent yet for the novel. That’s why I decided to put my first novel ‘Ignoring Gravity’ on my blog, to just get people reading it and get some feedback. Now halfway through writing the sequel ‘Connectedness’. I have friends who are self-publishing, others who have gone the traditional route. So many options available these days! SD