This morning, I was playing one of my favorite puzzles, Kanoodle. If you don’t know it, Kanoodle is a game set up kind of like Tetris. You start out with a pattern made of these noodles, shapes made of tiny segmented plastic balls. The object is simple—arrange the rest of the pieces into the puzzle to complete the field. Level 1 is the easiest—one piece is missing. It’s designed from ages 7 and up, and so it’s great for kids starting out, or if you yourself want a boost in your own genius. For Level 2, there are two pieces missing, Level 3 there are three missing and so on.
I’m at Level 5. About two minutes in, I wanted to throw it against the wall. Twice. And I love it!
All frustrations aside, there’s something about puzzles that have always fascinated me, especially real-life puzzles. They mirror the colorful, tactile games I played with in my infancy perhaps. Or maybe it’s simply the way they feel grasped between my fingers that harkens back to ancient humanity, much like the way writing in longhand reminds us of our more ancient and creative side as opposed to the more neutered version of tapping at computer keys or thumbing at our phones.
But the reason why I love puzzles the most is that there is a solution to it, no matter how impossible it looks. Kanoodle shows me the process of not only problem solving but creativity, a map for my own thinking.
My brain goes through so many different scenarios when faced with a new puzzle. First I look for the simple stuff (Oh that space looks like that shape, it must go there. No? Hmm), then I move things around (maybe the U shape over here and then…no. Dangit!), then I go back on a hunch or perhaps am just lazy, so I repeat myself, knowing that the solution is not where I thought it was (but it SHOULD go there! It HAS TO!). Then something interesting happens. When I keep persisting, I do things differently. I place pieces together away from the board in an attempt to see if I can see a pattern without the bias of the board. Or I combine two pieces on the board, moving them around like a pair of dancers gliding along a floor. I spin the board so I can see another viewpoint. Or, in times of frustration, I do what I did this morning–muttering curses under my breath and just jamming pieces into places I know they’re not supposed to go in a fit of despair.
Eventually (and maybe not accidentally), right after I’ve had enough, I announce, quite absurdly, that there’s no way in hell that these pieces could possibly fit together, and in about a minute, I fit the pieces together. What a high!
I play Kanoodle for several reasons but the main one is because I want to become a better writer.
How does playing with a puzzle make me a better writer?
Because editing, if anything, is about fitting pieces together to make a whole story. Editing is about coming up with solutions to problems—character problems, motive problems, plot problems, or language and style problems. Editing is about sequence too, fitting scenes, paragraphs, and lines in different places to make different meanings.
This can be disheartening, and there inevitably comes a time in the editing process where you hit a wall. You want to give up. What I’ve learned from Kanoodle, and am continuing to learn, is what my mind goes through creatively if I put some pressure on it.
I’ve even wrote out a little line about it:
Persistence in Frustration leads to Revelation
It was only because I got mad and angry and frustrated BUT PERSISTED ANYWAY that I came up with the solution to the puzzle but also came up with new ways of trying to solve a problem. It was only through persisting that I realized that if I spin the board a quarter turn, it changes my mind and refreshes it in a way where I could place pieces in spots I hadn’t even seen before. And that’s the key verb right there—see. When you’re working on your story or poem, when you can’t ‘see’ it, you must remind yourself that the solution is there somewhere and that if you persist creatively, you’ll find it.
Too many times, in my old fixed mindset, I thought that being frustrated meant I wasn’t doing it right. I thought I had to do something else or, worse, I had to give up. Now I’m beginning to learn that frustration is the gateway to creativity. You MUST be frustrated, you MUST fail, over and over.
Don’t think of your WIP as an unfinished novel or story or poem, think of it as an unfinished puzzle. When you see a jigsaw puzzle with large corners of it bitten away, you don’t think ‘I’ve failed’ but ‘I can’t wait to finish it!’.
Everything is a puzzle, i.e. a game. And games are not always fun but they’re definitely challenging and worth the effort.
So don’t worry. Remember this phrase:
Persistence in Frustration leads to Revelation
Revelation in your writing and in your life.
Have a great day.