Can Writers See the Future?

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Hey writers,

Intriguing post today at Wired’s This Day in Tech blog. It’s a topic you’ve probably heard wisps of at one point or another in the pop culture of writing—the author who more or less predicted the sinking of the Titanic. Contrasting any loose Nostradamus-style guesstimations, Morgan Robertson (born on this day in 1861) published his maritime disaster epic Futility in 1898. The book’s ship? The Titan. The culprit that landed it at the bottom of the Atlantic? An iceberg. As the blog also details, one of Robertson’s short stories in 1914 depicted a war between the United States and Japan, sparked by a surprise salvo. (Read more here.)

Eerie coincidences for a writer with bad luck—or, OK luck, depending on how you look at it (after all, his ocean liner tome was reprinted after the Titanic went down in 1912).

Every so often, you hear about other coincidences between works of fiction and reality. What do you think: How do fiction writers do it? Do they have such a strong grounding in their subject matter that they can make informed guesses about what’s down the road? Or are there so many fiction writers with such a momentous output that someone's bound to hit the nail on the head from time to time? Or, sliding further down the rabbit hole, as Stephen King said in our May/June issue: “I think every writer who does this on a daily basis has a ‘back channel’ to the subconscious that can be accessed pretty easily. Mine is wide and deep. … I sense strongly that this world is a thin place indeed, simply a veil over a brighter and more amazing truth.”

Sure, it’s all a bit out there and may even border on new-age turf, but it makes you wonder. And as writers, isn't wondering the key to getting to the good stuff?

Here’s to you on your birthday, Morgan Robertson. Thanks for the prompt. (And sorry for the Titanic pic.)


Fiction to Fact
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below:

Take the last piece of fiction you wrote, and imagine that it actually happened—and found its way to the news. Now, write a piece centered around the reactions of a character watching a recap of the story on television. (What can you learn about the original piece—or the world around it—from this objective glimpse?)


The October issue of WD is now on newsstands. Check out our community issue here, featuring writing forums, online collectives, bestsellers riffing on writers’ organizations, and even the keys to making the most of a nightmare conference. What’s worth your time these days?