I love working jigsaw puzzles. Mostly, I love running my fingers through the box of puzzle pieces. There’s no sorting them into colored piles or turning each one right side up for this girl. Second only to the satisfying snick of two cardboard shapes locking together is the low rumble of a thousand unique pieces tumbling over each other, the dusty coolness against my skin.
This week, I took time out from my writing to complete a Ravensburger puzzle that has been sitting in my closet for a few months. Five nights in a row, I sat down at the table and slowly brought the picture together while my husband sat on the couch nearby, working his way through Uncharted 2 on his PS3. Each of us respected the other’s hobby from a distance and called out the occasional encouragement when necessary.
The first night of puzzling, I felt a little guilty that I wasn’t working on my book, but I quickly realized that I actually was working on it—in my head. The amount of brain power necessary to locate and connect interlocking shapes is rather low. With my hands and eyes focused on a task, my mind was free to wander, and it journeyed all over my novel while I worked.
Though I didn’t write anything down during those puzzle sessions, I didn’t feel like the time was wasted. When I sat back down at the keyboard in the mornings, the words were ready for me.
Maybe it’s because working a puzzle and writing a novel are so similar.
The beginning is exciting. You start with a big box of pieces. You pull out the flat-edged ones and form your structure, ignoring the strange shapes that you know must fit somewhere but, at first, don’t seem to belong at all.
Once the outline is done, you start to work on various sections, making progress little by little, feeling that rush of excitement when you finally see where a scene fits into the bigger picture. Occasionally you take a break or change seats to shift your perspective of the whole. It never fails to help you see something new, locate the piece you were looking for.
The middle is the most difficult—all the easy portions are done and you’re left only with those strangely shaped creatures you’ve been avoiding. But you power through piece by piece until the box empties and the holes fill in. Soon… or maybe not soon but eventually… you are putting those last few pieces into place—snick, snick, snick—until the whole thing is complete. The picture looks just like the one on the box, and at the same time, it doesn’t. It is larger, glossier, more majestic.
I haven’t arrived at the glossy completion of my novel yet. I’m still muddling through the middle, trying to get all those pesky pieces to fit. But the box is getting lighter, and the holes are starting to fill in, and I am anxious for that last, satisfying snick.