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Puzzling the Link Between Jigsaws and Books

Every now and again I am overcome with the urge to do a jigsaw puzzle. Mostly I resist the temptation because I get obsessed with finishing and about kill myself staying up too late to finish them. I don’t bounce back from late nights like I used to (I don’t bounce at all anymore) and I can’t spend that kind of time on a puzzle when I need to write books.

Still…the temptation is always there, so when I spotted this miniature jigsaw puzzle at the craft store (long story about how I ended up there), I couldn’t resist and bought it. I set myself some rules before I broke the seal. I couldn’t work on it during work time and no uber late nights. I did pretty good keeping to the rules, made easier when I got the easy parts done. The hard parts nudged me back onto path of virtue. (grin)

Maybe someone else can do a puzzle in an orderly way, say start at the top and fill it in going left to right, or right to left. But that’s not how I do it. I do try to find the edge pieces first, but I also sort for structures and people. Sky pieces are easy to find, less easy to put together. My sort ended with lots of green and blue and yellow, i.e. hard parts. 

It was looking at the blank spots that prompted this blog post, because puzzles are more interesting to do, much less interesting to write about. But looking at my incomplete puzzle, I realized that completing a puzzle is a lot like plotting a book–at least the way I plot. 

I joke that I commit random acts of plotting, sometimes to the point of almost making my head explode. In the industry, they call this “flying by the seat of your pants” or “going into the mist” or (my personal favorite and what it feels like sometimes) “pulling the story out of your tush.”

I’ll start out with a notion or a character or a vague sense of something that feels like a story. Not unlike a jigsaw puzzle, I’ll start searching for pieces to form into something recognizable. I will note here that pieces that don’t exist are a lot harder to find!

The people and places are easier than figuring out what happens, so they will take shape first, just like it is easier to pick out buildings and people and things in a puzzle. It’s exciting to see my characters begin to form into “real” people. See them begin to speak and act in ways that makes the blank places slowly fill with story and plot.

I pick up the mental pieces my brain throws at me when I’m brainstorming, trying to fit them in with my characters and setting, twisting and turning them, sometimes setting aside, or even discarding them (I don’t throw pieces of my jigsaw puzzle away no matter how tempting). 

Sometimes I have “pieces” left over that I set aside to use in another book. That’s how I ended up writing my Project Universe series. I had some ideas left over when The Key was finished (and a character who was very bitter because he didn’t get the girl.)

And just like a jigsaw puzzle, I get frustrated when I reach the hard pieces, where nothing seems to fit anywhere, even though I know they do. Sometimes I have to sort by shape or just bulldog my way through by trying pieces until something fits. Other times I have to step back and come at it with fresh eyes.

My books are like that. Even though I know it is coming, I still slam into the wall of “suddenly hard” and fear that the book will never be right or finished. And then, like my puzzle, the pieces will suddenly start falling into place. The blank spots get smaller and smaller, the pieces easier to locate and place. 

When a jigsaw puzzle is finished, I can sit back and admire. With a book, I sit back and rest on my laurels for a short time before starting the hard work of editing, but eventually I can also sit back and admire my book. Best moment is when I get my author copies and actually hold it in my hand. 

I thought I was a bit odd, I thought that my jigsaw puzzle hobby didn’t fit with my writing, but now I think they actually are just two different ways of expressing my need to create order out of chaos. 

Or I might need a shrink. What do you think? Do you have hobbies that seem incompatible, but really aren’t? Ever done something that almost made your head explode that you did anyway and were glad you did?  

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Pauline has puzzled her way through twelve novels of suspense, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, science fiction romance, steampunk/science fiction romance and action adventure. Which might explain why her head is close to exploding. You can find out more about her and her books at 

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