Putting the Writing Puzzle Together

February 3, 2021 § 16 Comments

By Rachael Hanel

Perhaps you’re like many people who have filled long hours at home by putting together jigsaw puzzles. As someone who writes and who also enjoys puzzles, I have noticed how the process of working on puzzles resembles the process of working on a book.

The shiny new thing

Oh, the promise of new box with the pretty picture on the front! You choose a puzzle that speaks to you—perhaps it’s a scene from your favorite travel destination, or cute animals, or you challenge yourself with one of those monochromatic behemoths. Whatever it is, there’s so much potential. The smell of a new puzzle, the freshly cut pieces—everything about it makes you fall in love and want to begin immediately.

The first exciting moments

You lay out all the pieces and get started. This is fun, you think! The puzzle proceeds nicely. You know you should be doing other things (cleaning, working out, reading, sleeping, eating, etc.) but you don’t want to stop. You locate the edges and quickly, a frame forms. From there, maybe you’re able to fill in a corner, maybe even two, or maybe there’s a portion in the middle that’s easy to put together. This is great!


Now the puzzle becomes more difficult. Progress slows. Maybe even grinds to a halt. You look at the pieces and your vision starts to swim. The longer you stare, the more impossible this task seems. You walk away. Maybe for an hour, maybe for days. Each time you walk past the puzzle it torments you. It’s a reminder of what you can’t do. Who am I to think I can finish such a hard task? I’m a hack! I’m a failure! You contemplate tearing it apart and putting it back in the box, just so you won’t have to face it anymore.


You can’t let yourself do that. You’ve put so much work into it. There must be a way forward. All the pieces are there, you just have to figure out where they fit. And they will fit. So, you recommit yourself and sit your butt down to do the work.

The finish line

Your recommitment to progress is rewarded. Finally, you get over the hump and now the puzzle is coming together. You have a renewed sense of excitement as you see the finish closing in.

The final frustrations

Almost done! Very few pieces left but where the heck do they go? You’re convinced the manufacturer made a mistake. You find yourself jamming pieces in. They look like they fit, even though if you’re honest with yourself you can see a gap that reveals it’s not the right piece. But dammit, this has to be right!

Finally, it’s done

After taking a few deep breaths and unjamming the jammed pieces, you have a renewed sense of clarity. Maybe you take another break and return to the puzzle with a sense of calm and determination. Maybe there was a piece missing, and you locate it on the floor, between the cushions, or in your dog’s food dish. You’re going to finish this thing. You repeat it like a mantra, and you believe in yourself. Finally, there’s one piece left. You triumphantly put it into place and celebrate. Now, where’s the next puzzle?

Rachael Hanel is a writer and associate professor of mass communication at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her memoir, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, was published in 2013 by the University of Minnesota Press. She is querying her current manuscript, Breaking Point: One Woman’s Transformation from Activist to Radical in 1970s America.

§ 16 Responses to Putting the Writing Puzzle Together

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