This past weekend I took a couple of days off of outlining the new series. Work had left me completely drained and I really needed the break. I put together a jigsaw puzzle that I bought earlier in the month, while I watched the Olympics. As I was assembling it I had an interesting thought:
"Writing a novel is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle."
No really, it is. Think about it. Inside of the box there's a fragmented image. You know from the picture what the finished image is, but when you look at all of those small, irregular pieces it's hard to see how a streak of brown on a field of green is part of a leaf. Is that flash of gold part of the knight's gilded armor or the fair maiden's locks? Is that white speckled grey piece the spray at the foot of a waterfall or part of the dappled mare drinking at the edge of the pool?It's a complete mystery. Only when you dive in (to the puzzle, not the pool) and start testing the fit that you understand what each speck and smudge belongs to. There's also no one correct method of assembly. Yes, there's only one way for the pieces to go together (unless you're doing an Impossibles, but I digress), it doesn't matter if you start with an interesting bit in the middle or the border, the end result is the same.
Now, I should clarify that I'm not talking about the 25 piece puzzles that you put together as a kid. I'm talking about the 500 - 1000 piece monsters that take up the entire dining room table, a few days to assemble, and cause you to shout profanities at the cat when they walk across it.
Personally, I'm a border starting girl. I like knowing what parameters I have to work within and exactly how big it's going to be when it's done. I also have to have all of the pieces in front of me, face up. I know what sections of the image I'm going to work on first, second, third, and last -- I usually save the most difficult and tedious part for last. But once I've started, it becomes an obsession. Every spare minute is spent scanning the pieces and waiting for that "aha!" moment when I find the piece with the right squiggles and curves to fit the hole that's been bugging me for the past hour. I'll even forgo checking my e-mail (gasp!) in order to have a few more minutes to work on it.
Sometimes the cacophony is too much and I have to walk away for a short while or view the pieces from a different angle in order to make any sense of it (I find that upside down works the best). Occasionally I'm tempted to give up and throw the whole lot back in the box and I have to remind myself that I've come too far and spent too much time on this to quit now. Usually within a short time my perseverance pays off and victory is mine.
And you know what? My writing process is exactly the same (minus the upside down viewing). I do preliminary research and outline so I know what parameters I have to work within. All of my notes on what the finished piece should be are at my fingertips at all times. Whenever something doesn't work out the way I thought, I go back to my notes and look them over until that "aha!" moment arrives and when I feel discouraged I remind myself that I've spent too much time and energy on this to simply quit. Then last but not least, when the final words are in place I can look at the finished product, reflect on the journey, and say "yeah, I did that."
Pretty cool, huh?