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Take 5 Friday: Five Writing Lessons From A Puzzle

We have a puzzle set up on a card table in our living room. As I was mulling over what to write about this week, I sat down and put a few pieces together. 

Not only was that process meditative, it also made me think about the parallels between assembling a puzzle and drafting a story. 

Check out the list below and let me know how your writing compares to doing a puzzle.

Background image of a stack of books, a cup of coffee, an antique clock and a typewriter. Foreground image of a pale yellow circle containing the 10 Minute Novelists logo and the text 'Take 5 Friday:
Five Writing Lessons From a Puzzle'

Start by choosing a project that suits you

When you’re picking a puzzle, you choose one that you like and that you have time and energy to complete.

You try to avoid ones that will take up too much room (or too much time) and you definitely avoid images that will annoy you.

You can do the same thing with your writing by choosing subjects or genres that interest you and by organizing your projects to fit the time (or brain space) that you have right now. 

Decide where to start

When I’m doing a puzzle, I like to put together the frame first. It’s relatively straightforward to pick out all the edge pieces and then I can see the parameters of the whole project. 

I could equally well start with any other section of the puzzle. It really doesn’t matter where I start, the puzzle is still going to get done. 

That works for your writing, too. 

Whether you start with an outline, a description, a character or a concept, you can find your own path through the story.  Sure, different methods might be faster or more direct, but you can approach your project in the way that serves you best.  

Work on the pieces that appeal to you

After I have put the frame together, I pick a section of the puzzle that appeals to me. Usually something with a distinctive colour or something that feels ‘easy’ so I can get a small feeling of accomplishment. 

You can do the same with your writing. There are no rules that say that you must do the hardest parts first. You can pick the parts that feel easy or that you feel confident about and forge ahead with them one by one.

Focus on the process for the hard parts

Doing a puzzle is not just about reconstructing a cool photo, it’s about the process of putting all the pieces today. Some parts will happen quickly, others will take a lot of trial and error.

The trial and error can be frustrating (you may need lots of breaks) but if you remember that it is just part of the project, you will feel better about it. If you can take your mind off the end goal and see the trial and error as useful in itself, you will feel even better. (I’m not saying it’s an easy switch to make but it’s worth trying, even for a little while.)

I’m sure you can see how this can apply to your writing as well. 

There will be tricky, annoying parts in any writing project. It’s okay to get frustrated and annoyed. It’s okay to take a lot of breaks. But, if you can remind yourself that these feelings are part of the process and that you just have to go through the trial and error until the pieces fit together, you will feel better about your writing. 

Celebrate your accomplishments

I always have a sense of victory when I finish a section of a puzzle, no matter how easy or challenging it was. And I am truly victorious when I finish the whole thing. 

When you think about it, it’s a bit unusual to celebrate something so temporary. After all, once I celebrate and then take a photo, I am probably just going to take the puzzle apart and put it back in its box.

Yet, the effort and the accomplishment are worth celebrating, no matter how long the finished product lasts. 

The same is true of your writing, of course.

I would like to see you celebrate your marvellous sentences, your delightful paragraphs, your wonderful chapters, and your delightful stories. 

Even if you are about to take them apart and revise them, your work is important and that work has meaning. 

Just like with assembling a puzzle, your writing is a process of creating order out of chaos. The effort that you put into that process should be celebrated.

You have a reason to be proud of yourself, no matter what you plan to do next.

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