Puzzles and Writing

Okay, here comes a little humbragging.

My life isn’t challenging. I retired from the military, so I have a pension egg that comes in each month. I worked for a few startups when I retired from the mil. Tyco and IBM bought them. I made stock off those deals, and my nest egg ballooned. In other words, I’ve been lucky.

Challenges amount to coping with cats, dealing with modern life, helping my wife in her adventures, maintaining things, writing novels, and doing puzzles. Writing novels was a desire delayed as I stayed in the military to retire and have a pension, and then stayed with companies to get stock options and build a nest egg, so I don’t feel guilty now pursuing my writing dream. Puzzles are a pleasant diversion. I do a few online every day, something to pump up my endomorphs so I feel good about myself.

There’s also the jigsaw puzzles. They started in 2019. We were on vacation at the coast. A puzzle was there and we worked on with another couple as a social activity. It was fun. Early this year, pre COVID-19, we decided to do more. They were a pretty diversion during cold and dark January days. My wife likes them in theory but finds herself discouraged by the struggle to find the pieces and make it all fit together. I, though, find tremendous satisfaction in fitting those pieces together and making it all come together. Is it any wonder that I think of novel writing as being just like puzzle solving?

I’m almost finished with the Christmas puzzle. We didn’t finish the Halloween puzzle until November. I then joked that we need to start the Christmas puzzle in November so it’ll be done by Christmas.

Well, it’s almost finished. Four percent remains. It’s a thousand piece puzzle; you can do the math.

While I was doing the puzzle, I was contemplating how much it is like my writing process, and my work process. I used to work alone in my tasks as an IBM analyst and service planner. People would give me problems or ask my opinion, and then I’d work alone, come up with answers, and feed it back to them. I enjoyed those challenges and learned how much working alone entertains me.

With those issues in IBM, I used to gather facts and insights, then walk away from it for a while. The length of time varied. Then, something would come together in my brain and I’d go back, attack and finish it. I also did the same in my final years in the military. Although I’d been in command and control, I was appointed a special assignment as Quality Air Force advisor to the commander for my final two years. A one-person office, I worked alone, setting up the curriculum, then teaching it to the base population while facilitating team building and strategic planning in parallel. It was fun.

That’s also how I do Sudoku puzzles each day. Bring them up, take a look, close it, and walk away. Then I come back and do it later.

The jigsaw puzzle is also like that. Finding an area to focus on, I’ll consider the finished image, where I’m at, and the pieces that remain. Then I walk away. Returning later, I discover that I can fit several pieces together, click, click, click, click.

(And this is where my wife and I have moved apart on working on the puzzles. I have my style, whereas, she tries fitting them piece by piece, picking them up and trying them until she finds one that fits. That’s so counter to my style, it irritates me. But, I’m an easily irritated person. That’s probably why I worked alone, too.)

That’s often how my writing process works. The character is HERE; the story is HERE; what must happen NEXT? Wander off, do tedious chores, wash the car, play with the cats, drink coffee, etc. Then return; sit; type. Walking and my pre-COVID-19 writing process was built around this. I’d walk to a coffee shop, then write, leave, think about what’s to be next, and then do it again the next day.

When it works — with puzzles, computers, analyses, writing, whatever — it is beautiful and rewarding. When it works, it feels like magic.

BUT —

You knew it was coming. It’s not always like this in any of these cases. My success with that process leads to overconfidence. I attempt to manipulate and hurry the process. I think I can force myself to see and do at will. I then end up overthinking everything, losing confidence, and stalling.

I’d learned that before. That’s why I developed my walking and writing routine. But when it was cut out from under me with the pandemic restrictions, I was at a loss. How do I do what I used to do without doing what I used to do? Doing the puzzles helped me understand myself, yet again. Developing that insight into myself was rewarding. Keeping it in mind is yet another challenge. It basically amounts to relax; take your time. Trust yourself. Be patient. And always, always stay positive and persistent. Go back when you fail, regroup, and try again.

Looking back at previous blog posts, I’ve learned this all before. Oh, boy.

Got my coffee. Ready to give it a go and write like crazy, at least one more time.

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