If you’re a writer then I know you do.
Writing a book is like a puzzle – there are lots of pieces, you have to sort them out, and then put them together.
The nice thing about puzzles is that all the pieces you need are in the box – you just have to get to it and do the work.
Writing is a little different, because you have to make each and every piece yourself.
Yes, you are the factory and you churn out the pieces.
The nice thing about this is that you can shape them any way you want, ensuring they fit where they need to.
The frustrating thing is that sometimes you don’t know the pieces you need, especially early on, when you’re staring at a bare bones puzzle outline, the side and corner pieces…if you even have that.
I’d like to talk about puzzles today, as well as writing books. By the time we’re done you’ll come away with a new appreciation for what you do, and new ways of looking at it so that the job can get done faster, better, and in a way that makes you stand back and smile.
#1 Puzzles are Relaxing, Yet Challenging
Aren’t most enjoyable things like that, at least all the things that are worth doing?
It’s the consternation, the frustration, and the throwing up of our arms that makes tasks both fun and rewarding, but a huge pain in the butt too.
Puzzles are like that, and so is writing.
It’s hard taking that first step, especially when you’ve got hundreds or thousands of pieces.
Usually when you get started it goes better. Books are like this. Whether you’re starting your first or your 50th, books will frustrate you.
All the pieces are in your head, and it’s hard getting them out. It can be challenging.
Do you even get going on it, however, and find that you lose yourself in it?
Good writing, and even outlining and organizing what you have (editing), does that. It puts you in that frame of mind where something else takes over. Challenges lead to relaxation as you put on the auto-pilot.
The trick is getting started. Dump out that box of ideas – it’s the fastest way!
#2 Puzzles Force You Into a Framework
Wow, I’ve done that about 10 or 15 times!
You know what the problem was? I wasn’t working within a framework.
When you do a puzzle you have a framework, and it’s pretty clear – it’s why you bought the puzzle to begin with.
Yeah, I’m talking about the image on the box. It looked cool, the number of pieces were in your range, and you decided to go for it.
All you have to do is follow the picture on the box, and trust me, that’s what you want to do.
If you think I’m lying, just try taking that box away, or worse, turning all your pieces over and doing the puzzle that way. Good luck!
In writing we call this an outline. I’m not fond of outlines, but I do them…in my own way. Usually they look like this:
These are little bits of informative text that I need to write up, write around, and expand. It’s my outline for that chapter, and together they form the outline of my book.
I do this all the time now, and it’s how I get the first few thousand words of my novels. I like that early progress, those big numbers, and I slowly cut them away when they’re no longer needed.
Think of ‘em as the scaffolding on a house. You’ll need that stuff to go up so you can build the house, and slowly, section by section, chapter by chapter, you take that scaffolding down. When you do this enough times you have a beautiful home, a wondrous book, and quite the feeling of satisfaction.
That’s what writing books is all about – satisfying yourself and satisfying your reader. If you can do that within a well-known, expected, and respected framework, half the job’s already done.
#3 Puzzles Thrust You Into the Subconscious
It’s called being in the subconscious, and we do this a lot with mundane tasks. Driving, washing the dishes, riding a bike…all thrust us into that relaxed state where habit and routine take over. This allows our mind to wander, something it likes to do.
If you’re the creative or imaginative type, you’ll want to enter this realm of your mind quite often. Puzzles are a good way to do it, for it doesn’t take much effort, even though you might be giving it all of your concentration.
Autopilot takes over and you go from there.
You can do this with writing too, and chances are good that you already are doing it.
You were expecting to open up the current work in progress and move some things around, cut out the dross, and perhaps add in a paragraph or two.
Well, guess what – the subconscious took over and decided to get the job done.
That’s right – habit! You’ve been writing so long that all those thoughts, feelings, and dream-state happenings are coming to you effortlessly, moving right down the brain stem, into the nerve centers and out those ten fingers of yours as they dance happily across the keys.
You’re doing it, and by God, it sure is great, isn’t it!
Start practicing more, and on all kinds of writing. Just like puzzles, landscape images can get dull and boring. Maybe an animal image, some food, a cityscape, or some people are right for the occasion.
It doesn’t have to be a large puzzle, maybe just one you finish in a day, a few hours even. The point is, you’re expanding your reach, and your mind. Your subconscious loves that.
#4 Puzzles Allow You to Focus on One Area in the Larger Work
When you have a large job to do, a big book to write, or anything else that is monumental in scale, step back.
Step back and look at some of the smaller areas, maybe focusing in on them.
For puzzles we have lots of these smaller areas, and you can usually see them when you look at that box image.
When it comes to your book, you can see these smaller areas in your chapter starts and your basic outline.
The trick is to find the areas that are effortless right now, the ones that you want to work on. I’ve found that with puzzles, these are the piece with words.
With words you already know the up and down of it, so that’s a good place to start.
I did that with the puzzle image that you see above, and to be completely honest, I left that puzzle on my desk for a couple weeks, looking just like that. Finally I put it back in the box.
Yeah, I didn’t want to work on that puzzle, it turned out. Sometimes that happens ,and it can happen after you’ve made a lot of progress. I have a whole folder of “back burner” works that are like this. Maybe I’ll return to them one day, but not anytime soon.
Books can be like that, and maybe you’ve abandoned one or more. That’s fine, the trick is finding the ones you want to work on and then going from there.
#5 Puzzles Offer Lots of Variety
All of those things allow my subconscious to take over. That way I’m actually thinking about my current work in progress while doing something else.
That’s nice, and it helps you. When you do that enough you’ll get lots of variety in your mind. That’s great for genre writers.
Yeah, think about your genre and also your sub-genres.
That’s tough, and a slight move from hard-boiled to international could be the trick it takes to boost your author rank from the #50,000s to the #20,000s, and your income up several hundred dollars a month in the process.
Use those sub-genres and your knowledge of the larger genre to get ahead.
and your income up several hundred dollars a month in the process.
That’s a good post to look back on, for I bet you write like one of those toys.
I like to piece my stuff together. I’ll write out a scene and that scene might be in the third act. The thing is, I can move it there later. Sometimes I don’t know what the rest of that third act – or even any of the second act – may be yet.
Puzzles are like that too – you don’t know what the whole image will be, just small parts. When you get enough small parts you can put them where they’re needed, then find the small connecting parts that join them.
When you do that enough you have a complete picture. If you’re writing you’ll have a book.
Consider that, and think about your writing as a puzzle and your puzzle as writing.