Editing with Puzzels

Editing a novel length piece is a monumental task. Sure, to actually sit down and write the damn thing is a lot of work as well. But editing, yikes. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

The other day I took a break from editing a particularly bogged down section of book two of The Soul Mender Trilogy and started working on a puzzle. As lame as that may sound to some of you (it’s 110 degrees outside what am I supposed to do?), it’s critical to pull my eyes from a computer screen every once in awhile and give my brain a break from the mind numbing glare of the monitor. And my insides a rest from the stress of not knowing how to clean up a section of unruly words.

So I chose to piece together a puzzle. In college, my roommate and best friend Vicki and I used to do puzzles all the time. It would usually start with me creating the outline and any large objects in the middle. Vicki would come behind and fill in the rest—the sky, the vegetation, really all of the hard parts.  We had a good system. I liked the fun, easy parts and when I got frustrated, she found joy in the challenge of the rest.

So true to my puzzle history, I have finished the outline and the easy pieces in the center. And as I stare down at it, I’m reminded of where I’m at in my editing stages. Editing a book is like putting together a puzzle, a really difficult one at that. One of those that’s labeled expert (if those exist). You write your first draft, which is the equivalent of dumping the ten-thousand-piece puzzle onto the table into a heap and sorting the pieces into like categories.

And then you begin editing. You stare down at the mess and hodgepodge, overwhelmed and wishing your friend Vicki were there to put together the hard pieces. Everything looks the same. Everything is a clutter. And nothing seems to match up.

But then you take a breath and realize that even a small piece of roof in the corner of a sky blue fragment is a clue to where it goes—that miniscule yellow flowers in the branches of a tree can help you put together three jagged corners.

And even though it is tedious, matching three pieces together at a time out of so many, eventually more connections become obvious. Eventually the chunks fit together. And with enough focus and attention, you are able to put together a really nice picture on your own. Not a complete image, because you will always need Vicki (or multiple editors and sets of eyes) to come in and polish off the sky and grass.

And as silly as this analogy may sound, I found it helpful because it reminded me that it is okay that pieces of my new novel are out of order, jumbled, and unreadable. It reminds me of the patience and focus it takes to hone something to perfection. It reminds me that I am not working on a ten-piece child’s puzzle, but the ten-thousand piece behemoth. It just means I need to not feel overwhelmed, but to look for the small details and connections that will help tie everything together.

So I leave the puzzle incomplete on the table for now and return to my manuscript, freshly inspired to create a sequel that y’all will love.