My brother in law and his partner like to piece together jigsaw puzzles. They call the activity, puzzling. After both have spent their work day dealing with the public or more to the point, the entitled public, puzzling is relaxing: not aggravating like the news, not demanding like reading. Puzzles have a form, rules and can be finished in a reasonable time frame.
They offered to include me in the grand opening of a new puzzle. With great ceremony they opened a new puzzle box and and carefully distributed the detached pieces picture side up across the table.
The first activity, they explain, is to build the frame.
The second is to spend minutes, or hours, finding the next exact piece to fit into the frame.
Sometimes a person focuses on fitting together all the pieces that have similar colors or patterns, and set the collection, checking the box lid, into the general area of the still incomplete puzzle, reasonably confident that they will find the linking pieces that will eventually attache and connect those sections into the frame.
Sometimes they work for 15 minutes to find where a specific piece belongs but in the end, still can’t find a home for it. At that point they are allowed to declare that the puzzle is stupid and walk away to watch a favorite Netflix series.
What I appreciate most about puzzling is the nonjudgemental permission to walk away. The pieces are not swept back into the box. The offending piece that refuses to mate is not set on fire.
You don’t give up on the puzzle.
Because the next morning, that puzzle piece will suddenly reveal where it belongs, it will find it’s place in the frame. You can move on and find the next, then the next, piece, always moving towards the goal of finished picture.
Just like plotting a story or novel.
We often start a novel with a clear picture in our head of what the finished novel should look like.
We build the frame intended to contain all the characters and adventures.
We spend hours, days, months scrutinizing our plot points and pieces and work mightily to make them fit in the frame and contribute to the overall picture.
The only time puzzling does not resemble plotting is during that moment when you realized that all the pretty pieces, all the colors: the butterfly, the antique car, the palm tree, doesn’t fit in the frame. Sometimes a whole collection, no matter how meticulously worked and no matter how beautiful, doesn’t fit at all.
In a puzzle, this never happens. In a novel, it happens all the time. Sometimes our completed novel doesn’t match the picture in our head, at all.
Don’t be discouraged, celebrate the completion of a whole novel. Take those beautiful sections that didn’t fit anywhere and save them for another novel, or blog, or short story.
A novel is just like a puzzle, you can leave every piece on the table and walk away.