One of my favorite hobbies is working on jigsaw puzzles (1,000+ pieces). When we were little, my parents would set up the folding card table or clear off the dining room table so we could put one or two puzzles together. I always liked getting into the detail, seeing the picture come to life, and letting my mind wander while working on the puzzle. I remember saying (and still say) “Just one more piece” as I’d get hooked and not want to quit. However, there have been times when I couldn’t find any pieces, I was stuck, and forced myself to walk away. This is the same with writing.
You need patience with puzzles. Taking a thousand pieces and putting them together to create one picture takes time. Each piece has its place. Sometimes I’d place a piece in the wrong spot and later have to move it. Sometimes starting a section, like a piece of the sky or the meadow with lots of green and flowers, is hard to get started. But after looking at the detail, knowing what colors go where, I begin to link them together and soon that sky or meadow is done. This is the same as writing a story. Each scene takes time. Each scene pieced together creates the story. At times I have to move the scenes around in order for the story to flow in the right direction. I also step back to see how much is finished, how far I’ve come.
Most puzzles take a few days to finish. At times, I can sit at the table, stare at the pieces, try to fit them together, but nothing works. I’ve learned that when I haven’t found a piece in a while it’s best to take a break. Even if it’s an hour or so, sometimes it’s enough to re-look at the puzzle, the pieces, and try again. Writing a story is the same way. Sometimes when the words don’t flow or I’m continually deleting a sentence or paragraph, then it’s time for me to walk away. I’ll come back later and usually I’m back on track. This happened to me the other night. While editing, I was struggling with my sentences on how my character, Jessie, saw the scars on her back. I tried for an hour to think of the right words on how she felt. Finally, I gave up. The next morning, before work, I opened the document and started typing. Within five minutes I had written what I had wanted to say. I needed that break to clear my head.
And, getting lost in a puzzle has always helped me unwind. I will wear my comfortable clothes, maybe have a cup of coffee or a beer to drink, listen to music, and start in. I’ll also think. When I’m zoned into the puzzle, I’ll think about the story I’m writing or the plot for a future story. Since I’m not in the midst of typing a scene, I can think of different ways to help the story flow, including finding new characters. I’ll figure out how to write that action scene or how to get my character from one scene to the next. This is how I found Rex, my favorite side character, in “Gitana – Life Plan.” He popped in my head when I was toying with a scene. As I put the puzzle pieces in place, I also created a character that readers love.