Friday, November 1, 2019

Jigsaw puzzles and writing

One of the many cool features of my local library is that they now always have a jigsaw puzzle going, and they have puzzles you can borrow (and you can donate your own old puzzles if you're looking to declutter). 

Whenever I do a jigsaw, I always think of this passage from Louise Fitzhugh's The Long Secret: "She found a piece of the puzzle that fitted and felt a resounding satisfaction. How silly, she thought, that that should make me feel so good; that a piece of cardboard cut out of another piece of cardboard and then fitted back in should make a person feel so good."

There are plenty of theories about why it feels so good: that human beings like accomplishing things, solving problems, unraveling mysteries, finding patterns. Mostly what I like about jigsaws is the meditative quality of sorting the pieces and trying to fit them together. It's a very peaceful, calming thing to do, and the bigger the puzzle, the more patience it requires.

Jigsaw puzzles have that in common with writing. In fact, I was thinking that writing a book is like putting together a huge puzzle, which has some pieces from other puzzles mixed in. You hunt out the edge pieces first (the outline, if you will) and you have a sense of what the final product is supposed to look like, but in the beginning it's daunting and can be hard to know where to start. Where do all these pink pieces go? Should I work on the water or the sky? Does this blue piece belong to the water or the sky? What are these cream-colored squiggles? Is this piece ever going to fit anywhere? Oops--this section I've been working on doesn't even belong here; it's part of another puzzle!

As more and more of it comes together, it gets easier to know what goes where. The picture gets clearer and clearer. We fit it together piece by piece, the way we build a story word by word. What started out as chaos has become an organized, cohesive whole.

With puzzles, we're just reassembling what was originally whole--while theoretically, stories are new creations. But I swear that for me, stories feel more like puzzles. Writing feels more as if I'm discovering something--something that exists already in some shadowy depths of my mind, which must be fished out piece by piece and assembled in the light.