Jigsaw Puzzles as Writing Strategies

By Anne K. Kaler

How can a jigsaw puzzle help you with your writing?

Let’s start with the metaphor of your writing as a boxed jigsaw puzzle.Anne Kaler Head Shot

You already have everything you need to complete the puzzle picture on the box because no puzzle maker would stay in business long if he left out some pieces. Those writing pieces are lodged securely in the storehouse of your brain, just waiting for your agile mind to activate them. So you already have all the pieces within your life experiences.

Just like the jigsaw puzzle box your mind contains all the “pieces” necessary to re-create “the picture on the box.”

But there’s the problem, isn’t it. After you open the box, spill the pieces out on the table, shuffle through them, just where do you start the re-creation process?

The methods you use to sort the pieces will vary with your preferences. Some like to fish out all the edge pieces – some like to sort by color, or shape, or other category. But sort you must to impose a sense of order of procedure to begin the puzzle.

Now how is that like writing? Your mind is already full of ideas, memories, tidbits of experiences floating around in no great order. You can only write what you know something about. Writing essentially is revisiting memories in your head and revising them into something new by adding details or characters or changing the ending.

When your mind recalls one memory to work or deal with, little questioning tendrils of other memories float out, reaching toward the thought you revisited. Those tendrils touch and spark a new thought so that, before you know it, other similar memories are making connections in your mind, much like the nervous system in your body which sends messages along neural pathways in your physical brain.

Jigsaw puzzle pieces must fit together exactly to create the picture on the box. Out of the thousands of possible joinings of the individual pieces, only one combination will work between two pieces. Trial and error is the only way to secure the right piece joining with the right piece. That takes patience.

Writing takes the same sort of patience. You know that you have all the life experiences to write that story, if only you can find the right order in which to put the words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters.

As with puzzles, that order demands sorting the separate pieces into some workable format or pattern. Since each piece is cut off from its neighbor, so, also, can your beginning thoughts be separate from the entire story.

For example, if you choose the red pieces because you know that there is a red flower in the puzzle, you can choose to write about a vivid memory with descriptive detail – a room, a slant of sunlight, a dog’s red collar, a meatball on a white plate.

You may not have to use that particular piece in your story but never throw away any scrap of written or rewritten material. Think of quilting scraps or leftover potatoes or day-old bread – nothing gets lost and everything can be recycled.

Since there is no correct order to finishing a puzzle, there is no correct way to order your ideas in a story. Just plunge in wherever you feel most comfortable and write and save.

Jot down whatever seems to connect within your brain. Make a rough list of where each idea might fit and slip it into a flexible category. Then arrange those larger categories into some logical order – chronological, flashback, impressionist, fantasy – until you feel the right vibe being created in your story.

Puzzle pieces are notoriously deceptively shaped teasers which are made to deceive the human eye with their “almost-fits” curves and angles. Sometimes, just grouping like colors together can help narrow the area in which pieces are used.

This is the rough part. Trial and error tests are the only sure way to place puzzle pieces and story parts together. Persist. These are your ideas and yours alone. You may ask others to look over them and suggest changes, but the original plan is somewhere in your mind evading discovery. Persist until the story satisfies you.

In the next blog, we will continue our search for the puzzle of writing. Keep writing.


4 thoughts on “Jigsaw Puzzles as Writing Strategies

  1. This is great, sometimes you have to initially write the draft and then come up with the order after it’s written. In some cases you have to cut a good deal of the book to find where the real story begins! 🙂


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