Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Puzzle of Writing

I recently spent a weekend doing a puzzle with my dad and sister. We thought it would be a fun activity. We'd spend a couple hours putzing away on it, and before long we'd have it completed.

Um, we were wrong. Maybe it was the word "Master" in the title of the puzzle that should've clued us in. Or the fact that it was 700 pieces. But we spent the ENTIRE weekend pulling our hair out trying to finish. It was crazy! So many times we wanted to throw in the towel (or at least throw the puzzle out the window). But we didn't. We persevered. And finally finished.

This got me thinking about how writing a novel is like putting together a puzzle. You start with a box of pieces. Those are the ideas, snippets of dialogue, and new characters you want to write about. They're all jumbled together in the box of your mind screaming to be put together into a cohesive whole. This is especially true if you're the type of writer who doesn't do extensive plotting ahead of time, like me. Some people call that "seat of the pants" writing. A more than apt description.

There are times I wish I were a plotter (usually when I'm staring at all the puzzle pieces in the box!). I wish I could have a blueprint to follow as I'm writing my novel. But there's something amazing about the joy of discovery, too. When the pieces slowly fall into place, and a picture forms. Aha! THAT's where that character goes. See? I knew she fit somehow.

When I cross the finish line and slip the last puzzle piece in place and type "The End", boy does it feel good! Almost as good as completing a mind-boggling, 700 piece puzzle. Sure, I had days when I wanted to quit. I felt like banging my head against my keyboard when it would've been easier to pull out my front teeth than type another sentence. But if I'd given up, on the puzzle or my book, I wouldn't have enjoyed the pleasure of seeing the finished product.

So let me encourage you not to give up. Whether you're writing your first novel or putting together your first puzzle. It'll all be worth it in the end.

And yes, above is the the finished puzzled from our weekend of hair pulling. :)


Koala Bear Writer said...

My hubby and his dad are avid puzzlers, but often I'm not in a patient enough mood to watch them or help. It's a great analogy for writing, though (especially, as you say, for us seat-of-the-pants writers). Maybe I need to work on my puzzle skills a bit more! :)

Carla Gade said...

Great analogy, C.J. I'm a seat of the pantser too. To me that's half the fun, the discovery!

Write and Earn a Living said...

Your insights are spot on. My boyfriend keeps telling me I should work from an outline but ... those snippets of inspiration can't be pulled out anytime one wants.

As you mention, the real challenge rests in putting the pieces together into a cohesive whole.