Instead of working on my story I’m thinking about why I’m having so much trouble wrapping my arms around it. I’ve been living with these characters for over four years now. I’ve written first drafts for 3 novels based on these characters. I’ve got short stories about them. And the rough notes. So many notes.

But these stories are not yet whole. I’m still discovering things about my characters. Things that will bridge gaps in their tales. Bits and pieces that add depth and breadth to their stories. And I realized that writing a story is like putting a puzzle together.

We currently have a puzzle living in our dining room. It’s a thousand little pieces of cardboard that we started one cold Saturday a few weeks back. We’ve only had time to dip into it here and there since, so for the most part it remains simply an assortment of colourful pieces splayed across the table.

And that’s my story too – a jumble of notes and ideas that I’ve been dipping in and out of, time permitting, for the past four years. I don’t have all the pieces sorted. I don’t even know if I have all the pieces. Some of them might still be in the box. Maybe a few have slipped onto the floor. So I know I’ll need to gather them all together, make sure I haven’t missed any.

I have strung some of them together and the picture has started to form. But it still doesn’t look like the one on the box. I’m also quite certain there are a few pieces that don’t belong together at all, but I hammer-fisted them into place anyway. There will be sections that I’ve already assembled that I’ll probably have to pull apart and rebuild.

Writing, just like putting a puzzle together, goes more smoothly when you spend more time with it. Like most anything, the longer you’re at it, the easier it gets. You start to recognize the shape of things. The picture begins to reveal itself and you start to see the whole of it, rather than the little bits on the surface of each individual piece.

But because I don’t work on it consistently, every time I sit down I have to reacquaint myself with the work that has been done so far. I can’t memorize a thousand puzzle pieces and I can’t be sure that some of the bits and pieces of story that I’m turning over in my head now haven’t already been addressed at some point along the way. But every time I do spend longer stretches of time working on it things start to flow more smoothly.

Of course the analogy starts to stretch a little thin when you realize that a puzzle is already a completed whole that just needs to be reassembled. The pieces are all there; the job is simply to rearrange them properly. Writing a story on the other hand requires you to first create all those little pieces then figure out how they go together. Oh, and like everything from IKEA, there will parts left over. Puzzles don’t usually come with leftovers.

What I’m taking from this is that I can try to apply some of my puzzling strategies to my writing. Organize the bits and pieces. Build the corners and edges first. Find something that’s easy to identify and work that area first. And when possible, spend longer stretches of time with it. Pretty soon it will start to look more like the picture I expected it to be. And then, with persistence, it will all come together.