Tag Archives: thinking

Solving the Puzzle.


Do you have “writer’s block”?

Maybe you need to look at the pieces of your story in a different way.

Perhaps you have a strong urge to write, but you have no idea what to write. Staring at a blank page and trying to make sentences come without words is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with the backs of the pieces facing up.

Words are the bits of the patterns on the fronts of the puzzle pieces. The pieces have to be turned over before you can work with them, but they have to turn themselves over. Until they do that, you’re best off leaving that blank page alone and doing something else. (Always carry a pocket-sized notebook and a writing instrument, so you don’t lose a great idea while you’re busy pruning trees.)

Don’t strain your brain: the ideas are there, but they have to assemble themselves from bits and pieces of your life experiences. In other words, if you arbitrarily decide, “I’ll fictionalize the time when (fill in the blank) happened to (fill in someone’s name),” it won’t work well, and sooner or later you’ll get blocked again. It’s like trying to force a jigsaw puzzle into a shape it wasn’t designed to fit. This is one of the hazards of trying to plan or outline everything.

Try writing by the seat of your pants: Let ideas flow, and commit them to the page, just as they come to you. You don’t have to begin at the beginning: middles and ends will do; and you don’t have to finish one chapter before beginning another, nor even one scene before starting another. This is because your subconscious mind needs time to find bits of ideas and start hooking them together, like matching the patterns, tabs and slots of puzzle pieces.

The best help you can give your subconscious is to do research on your story: learning new things helps stock your mind with information that your brain will later disassemble, sort and match, and reassemble into the false memories that constitute fiction. When each fictional memory comes to you, no matter where it belongs, write it down. Periodically comb through what you’ve written, to do basic proofreading, reorganize sections, and get inspiration for filling in blanks. Eventually, all of the holes in your chapters and scenes will hook themselves together, and you’ll have a complete story.

This is the way I wrote Irish Firebrands: all 196,000-plus words of it. I never experienced “writer’s block,” and I had so much enjoyment in writing the novel, that every time I pick up the book and read a bit of it, I can still feel the way I did when I wrote the passage that I’m reading.

Think about how good it feels to find a puzzle piece that fits. Writing should feel good. As long as we’re having fun, we’re doing it right.






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Hold That Thought!

As an “organic writer” (aka “pantser”), I follow a non-linear writing habit, edit while writing, and deal with the competing demands of new stories and ideas when they happen. I think that my having raised four children, all born within nine years, prepared me to do this.

An Epicycloid, by Sam Derbyshire

To me, new ideas are more vulnerable to loss than established ones, so I always make time for them. When I return to the earlier work, I feel refreshed and I make good progress with it again.

A Hypotrochoid, by Sam Derbyshire

Think “Spirograph.” If you’re working at the right speed, you won’t jump a gear tooth when you loop to a new idea, you’ll navigate safely back to where you started, and you’ll have something beautiful to show for it.

Various Spirograph Designs. Anonymous. Wikimedia Commons.

Various Spirograph Designs, by Anonymous

It’s what I call “epicyclic thought.” In other words, the kind of multitasking that mothers get used to doing, without their even knowing it.


And that’s Life in the Parallel Universe … the Place where Novels are Real….

Cassini Apparent Astronomy, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1st ed., 1777

Cassini Apparent Astronomy, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1st ed., 1777


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