By Christine Carron
I love jigsaw puzzles. Last night, I finished a particularly tricky one. My puzzle speed slowed dramatically toward the end as I sorted out the last fifty pieces or so, which all looked very similar. I got it done through a combination of methodical analysis, leaps of intuition, and sheer determination. Yet, as I moved piece by piece toward the end of that particular puzzle, what kept circling in my thoughts was the entirety of the puzzle process.
In particular, I was pondering where the puzzle process begins. The end is clear; every piece in its place. But what is the first thing one does to put a puzzle together? My guess is that many puzzle players would speak to finding edge pieces and putting the frame of the puzzle together.
But is that really the beginning of the puzzling effort? From a project management perspective, I suggest not. Putting the frame together assumes a whole lot of work has already been done.
How do you really start to put a puzzle together?
An important part of my job as a process improvement consultant for software development projects is to make the work the team is actually doing visible. To the decision makers, who might not understand why the project is late; to sales people, so they can sell work more accurately going forward; and to the team members, so they stop beating themselves up trying to meet unrealistic deadlines and move into more confident action.
Writing, like puzzling and software development, is a process that has many steps that are often not acknowledged yet take time. It helps in our self-management and process management if we name those hidden steps and make them visible.
The first time I decided to write a novel, I sat myself down in front of a computer and started writing. Brainstorming and pondering, too; definitely some notes and mind-mapping, but I really thought if I was going to write a novel, I’d better start writing. Like pronto! I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to understand how much I was glomming together. Here is what I really did and this is only at the very highest level:
As you are an observant reader, I have no doubt you noticed that I took off the step numbers for these steps, unlike the puzzle process steps. Why? Because even as I note some of the key steps involved, I want to minimize implying a correct order. And arguably the learning effort was going on throughout the whole effort, and is still going on. But setting the learning aside, some writers like to do these steps concurrently. Some like a more consecutive approach. As a process improvement consultant, it is not my job to impose a process or an order on anyone.
As noted, I help make all their work visible. And then, together with an individual or a team, we explore what might help them get that work done more effectively, whatever effectively means to them. To get to that end, I ask questions such as:
I do offer options for consideration, based on my experience. Practices and processes for them to try on to see if it works. But I work across many types of companies, from large pharmaceutical companies with regulatory requirements to academic teams doing cutting-edge exploratory work. It would be folly for me to think that there is a one-size-fits-all solution for such diverse teams and work. We don’t offer authoritative solutions for writers through Goodjelly either.
Do I have a part of me who wishes there was a one-size-fits-all solution to building a writing career and to churning out great novels one after the other? That we could just buy a box from the store with all the right pieces ready for us to put together and presto-bammo, we are successful writers? Sure.
But that is a very small part of me. There is a much bigger part who wants the adventure in all its messiness and joy, and not-knowing slogs and grace-filled ahas and wins, and all the figuring-it-out-as-I-go in between. And I want the same for you.
For you to have your journey. To find the pieces of your perfect writing adventure. For you to put them together in a way that exalts your voice, your way of being, your take on the world. (Oooooooooo, happy chills!)
Let the puzzling begin!