It’s Like I’m Building and Solving the Most Complicated Puzzle I’ve Ever Seen, All at the Same Time

I am in the midst of a ridiculous costume build. Like haut couture designed 30-piece dress ridiculous. And I keep having these moments of blind panic where I think, there is no way I can make this all fit together. There is just so much to consider – I can’t do it.

I’ve got Tool playing in an infinite loop, and I’m trying hard to forget about the scene in Sunshine where the engineer breaks down and cries because he forgot to recalibrate that one angle after thinking of everything else.

I’ve mentioned before how I have, according to my mother-in-law, an impressive way of breaking down huge projects into manageable parts. It really does feel like solving a jigsaw puzzle. How do you solve a puzzle? You find the pieces you can identify and build from there. Edges, corners, distinct internal lines or colors that can be mistaken for nothing else. Every time I start to feel overwhelmed I take a step back, suppress the emotional reaction (fear, primarily, but also self-doubt and that sort of projected exhaustion you get from thinking about doing something hard that is often much more draining than the actual aftermath of doing the thing), and look at it logically. What is the next step? What is the next thing that must be done? And if I focus on that then the fear falls away and the whole seems accomplishable again.

There has to be an analogy in here to writing projects, yes?

I don’t think this is quite the same as DWS’s “just write the next word” – that would be like my saying the next step on sewing is the next stitch or the next pin. Er, yes, in a very literal sense, but not in a helpful sense. If you don’t know what’s getting sewn where, you can sew all the pieces together with the right number of stitches and end up with nothing even resembling a garment, much less the specific garment you were trying to produce.

But maybe something along the lines of what happens in the current/next scene and why it matters. If you look at a novel as a collection of 70-100 scenes the number is overwhelming, but if you focus on the scene in front of you and block the rest of it out, with occasional brief checks against the whole to make sure you are still on point, the process is easier.

Unless you are sitting there looking at place in your puzzle with nothing to hold onto–nothing identifiable you can pull out and fit to the whole.

This is where my analogies diverge. In a jigsaw puzzle, you just move to a different part of the puzzle and worry about filling in that gap later. In garment construction, there are often times when there is only one next step, and if you can’t take it, either because you are afraid of ruining all the work you’ve done up to that point or because you just can’t figure out how to do it, then you get stuck.

Unfortunately for me, I think I am a garment-sewing type of writer. I rarely write out of order, other than brief scene sketches, and the thought of skipping something to go back and bridge later really doesn’t inspire me to start writing again. How will I know what place the characters are in at this new point in time, or what they are feeling, or what they have experienced, if I did not see the previous scene(s) played out? And how can I write them if I don’t know them through and through? Etc.

Mayhap this build will help me clarify my work processes and cognition a little more, such that I can then apply my realizations to my writing process. That would be a nice boon to have on top of my dress. 🙂



Filed under Ramblings, Writing

5 responses to “It’s Like I’m Building and Solving the Most Complicated Puzzle I’ve Ever Seen, All at the Same Time

  1. ABE

    To follow with your stuck dressmaking analogy: you may not be ready to tackle attaching the collar or fitting the sleeve into the armhole, but you know there is going to be a collar and there is going to be a sleeve. You know where you’re going with the pattern, and roughly in what order – the same way you know that you have to have a scene where X tells Y to Z, someplace close to and before where Z tells Y to A.

    So you stop – and practice on a scrap of material. Go look at how the sleeve is trimmed on another dress. Go ask an expert. Go read your sewing and tailoring books. Because you’re not ready yet – you lack a skill, or the confidence, or a particular thread.

    But you’re still making the dress, and as long as the deadline isn’t such that you HAVE to wear it with the underskirt’s hem stapled instead of sewn, you’ll get there. You knew how to sew.

    Just remember that: you know how to sew, and you know how to figure out the parts you’re new at or rusty on.

    • That’s a lovely analysis. And yes, I do know how to sew (and write), and at this point I know I will get there as long as I keep plugging away at it. At least I’ve moved past my “can I even finish something?” panics 🙂

  2. I had a problem at university when lecturers would make us submit drafts of essays prior to submitting the final for assessment. Drafts? Seriously, do people have such disjointed thoughts they can’t bang out 2-3000 words on a subject once they’ve done all their reading? Then, everyone else does this but I don’t? I would always go back and proof read, add in correct referencing, and change the odd word here or there to clarify meaning, but never go back and rewrite, change focus or restructure a piece so significantly it would constitute a second draft. Now, of course, I realise its merely a facet of my INTJ thinking, being able to read, collect and systematise and plan on the run, like its all one thought process. And I still do the same thing with blog posts. Lovely to finally find out I’m not the only one!

    • Ha! hahahhahhahahhahaha that sounds like my experience at university too. Draft due? WTF. Here’s my paper. Grade it. See ya. I have never been much of a draft it wrong-rewrite-revise kind of writer. I do it right the first time. More work on the front end to understand the whole and its individual components and how they all fit together, but it makes the actual process of doing so much smoother. Or, as you put it –

      “merely a facet of my INTJ thinking, being able to read, collect and systematise and plan on the run, like its all one thought process.”

      Yes. That, exactly.

      Meeting other INTJs is awesome. It’s always like…this insane moment of validation where you go “SEE? I’M NOT CRAZY AND HERE IS PROOF: SOMEONE WHO THINKS EXACTLY LIKE ME!”

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