My kids are in college, grown up. What they mostly want for Christmas these days is money and clothes.
So the only real joy I have left in holiday shopping for them is to go to Target and buy a bunch of stocking stuffers. Small Lego kits (yeah, they still love them,) decks of playing cards, gum, Hershey’s kisses, funny pencils with snowmen on them. Tic Tacs.
This past year, I nostalgically decided to peruse the toy aisle and grabbed a puzzle. I had no idea that this afterthought gift would be the entire focus of our vacation. It was only five bucks and looked kind of cheesy. A boat scene, near a shore somewhere in Europe? It also looked really hard.
Christmas morning, the envelopes with money and the snowman pencils tossed aside, my sons became obsessed with this puzzle. Every time they sat in the living room, they dove in and separated the puzzle pieces by color, filled in the edges and worked on specific sections. On December 27th, here’s what it looked like…
Then my older son’s friends came over and dove in. While they watched British Soccer (Go Tottenham Hotspurs!) they picked and arranged, and slotted. One friend who does applied mathematics kept coming back. He and my son stayed up way too late one evening, but the next morning I woke up to this…
Then they started to get bored. God, there were still gaps left, but they were exhausted. Jesus, why didn’t those boat stripes match up? And why the hell did so much of the water have to be painted the same color? Still, day by day, they picked at it. Sometimes they made no progress. At others, jammed and suddenly understood things they’d missed before because they’d gone in so micro.
One morning, I woke up to this…
The puzzle was surrounded by beer cans, and trash, but man, was it a beauty.
The reason I’m writing this post, is that what they did with this puzzle felt much like writing a book or screenplay.
First, you start by figuring out your your idea (you lay down the edges,) you fill in certain sections (scenes) that are clear to you. But there are still gaping holes. Where is the side of that green boat? And why does it keep getting mushed up with the water pieces? Which red building does this brown shutter belong to? Day by day you work on certain sections (scenes.) Some days the words click together like magic, and other days leave the same gaping holes, as you try to shoehorn pieces together that don’t fit.
You’re sick of it.
You step away. Still, it sits there on your coffee table, haunting you.
Suddenly, you understand how that one section that stumped you a week ago works. You fill in the holes.
You keep at it, whittling the pile of unattached pieces down, one by one.
Suddenly, you’re finished!
TAKE ACTION! Approach your book or script like a puzzle. Have you locked in your edges (outline?) Have you taken a first pass and clicked together the parts of the picture that were immediately clear to you (scenes?) Have you taken note of the gaps (elements that are missing?) Have you attempted to fill them in, piece by piece? When you get bored and hopeless and want to shove the whole thing off the coffee table, could you invite friends over to get some help (feedback?) Can you see some of those gaps more clearly now? Have you worked to the end, section by section, piece by piece until everything clicks?
Although the puzzle in your writing often turns into a picture you didn’t expect, the process of sitting down each day and pecking away is the same.
Sign up here for my free weekly writing tips and inspiration!