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Puzzles and Organization

March 2, 2014

Each holiday season, mid-winter break, and sometimes during the summer, my family sets up a puzzle. We all have different styles piecing it together. My oldest daughter does none of it, so there’s that. My son doesn’t do much, but when he does, it’s small and specific. My youngest chooses sections by color, steadfast and determined. And of course, my husband dives in like a vulture to fill the last few holes. Watching them lurk around the board, finding their style reminds me of the way writers choose to organize their work.

For me, my thought process for a manuscript is similar to the way I organize a puzzle. I start by looking at the big picture, gathering ideas and plotting my method. Deciding where to start is most definitely the most difficult. Edge pieces? An obvious easy section? Develop one particular character? Outline the plot? There are many options, but usually, I go with organization as a good starting spot.  At some point, frustration sinks in, and I move location on the puzzle and in my book. Sometimes I pause to re-organize, look at what I’ve accomplished, and plot a new plan of attack. I celebrate finding the lost piece, both on the board and in the writing. I walk away. I come back. I walk away. I come back.

The writing, of course, requires much editing— an extra step in the process. But when I’m in the final stretch; when the puzzle is almost complete and the manuscript is almost ready to pitch, an odd, unsettled flow of emotions roar through me. I’m scared and sad to be at the end, yet thrilled at the same time. I sit with my feelings and then move forward.

And just like that, the final piece is snapped into place and the final word typed on the screen. Voila! I sit back, smile, and take some time—then I begin again.

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