Novel Writing and Revising Tip: The Ultimate Jigsaw Puzzle

Imagine if someone handed you a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle and told you to put it together. “Fine,” you say, “what is it supposed to look like? Do you have a picture of the final product?” 

“No,” comes the callous response.  

Then you turn over all of the pieces to find that they’re completely blank. There’s not a single image painted on a single piece. 

That, in essence, is the process of writing a book. It’s the ultimate jigsaw puzzle and all of the pieces are blank. 

But writing a book, as we all know, is normally done in two phases: writing and revising. I like to think of the writing phase as the process of painting the pictures onto the puzzle pieces. Each scene or chapter or tidbit of information about your main character is essentially a blade of grass, a petal of a flower, a corner of a wall. You may be able to lump a few of those pieces together and create a whole flower or a whole wall, but you won’t yet have a complete puzzle. All you should have at the end of the drafting phase is a bunch of unconnected pieces. 

Enter, the revising phase. This is when you sort through all of those pieces, determine which one goes where and, more importantly, which ones don’t even fit the puzzle at all. “Where did this zebra come from? There’s no zebra in this picture!” *DELETE!*

But that’s the thing. Until you have all the pieces, until you’ve painstakingly painted each individual white tile, you can never know what the full picture is supposed to look like. 

So, go crazy in the drafting phase. Stop worrying about where everything goes or whether or not it’s working. That’s not your job right now. Right now, your job is to paint as many pieces as you can. Don’t constrain yourself.  Add that zebra! Even if you’re not sure where he goes…or even if he goes. Go to town. Or, as my good friend Elsa likes to say, “Let it go.”

Only after you have a bunch of mix-matched, scrambled-up, seeming random pieces, can you really go to work and figure out how to interlock them together and what kind of picture you want to show the world. 

You can’t revise a book until it’s written.  And you can’t write a book if you’re too busy trying to revise it. So take my advice, and don’t even try. 


Want to learn more? Check out my online writing courses at the Writing Mastery Academy

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