When I was a kid, my family spent time in the Adirondacks. No TV. Just board games and…puzzles. And I’m talking big puzzles with lots (millions?) of pieces. Everyone seemed to get into it. Everyone, that is, except me. Spatial relationships—ugh, too much like math! I just didn’t get it. Sometimes, those puzzlers looked frustrated. And this was fun, how?
Flash forward a couple decades. My daughters have always loved puzzles. They make sure we have a nice, new, big one when we go on vacation. All week long, with their cousins, they work away at it. They enjoy it. I envy them. I wish I had the patience. The vision. The fortitude. I kind of get it. They work together with a goal in mind. But still, all that trial and error. Multiple pieces that are one color. Who can stand it? I take on the role of casual observer.
I’m happy that in my writing career, I’ve discovered a different kind of puzzle. I tell my writing-workshop students that writing is the only kind of puzzle I enjoy (besides other word-based ones, like crosswords and jumbles). When I work with students, I liken the writing trial-and-error to doing a puzzle. Yet, I think that kind of trial and error — the revision process – is fun.
My sister-in-law once asked me how I can stand working on something over and over. And a friend asked me how I can wait for so long, after I send out my work. And how, when someone doesn’t want it, I have to start over. “You must have the patience of a saint.” Patient. Me?
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a self-study poetry course. Talk about puzzling! In picture books, every single word counts. You must be succinct. And lots of trial and error. Now that’s a puzzle I can get into and lose all sense of time.
I guess every kind of puzzle isn’t for everyone. But I’m sure glad for my word puzzles. Is a big mess of pages and sticky notes and words overwhelming? Yes. Is it frustrating? Can be. But that’s okay. The exercise of making the pieces snap together is gratifying and makes us better at what we do.