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Just a big complicated puzzle - Helen's journal and online home
In which an old dog attempts to learn new tricks.
Just a big complicated puzzle
Something an LJ friend said (in a locked post, so I won't link) helped me to look at writing in a completely different way. S/he likened writing a novel to solving a really complex and wonderful puzzle. And a little light bulb clicked on in my brain. If I look at novels in that way, writing a novel can be its own justification. Whether or not it's ever published is simply a side issue.

I do love solving puzzles. I'm not a big crossword fan and I've never taken to sudoku, largely because once I've worked out how to do that type of puzzle, it simply becomes repetitive. Partly it's because I like my puzzles a bit less artificial. The messier and more complex the better!

The puzzle-solving aspect was the part of the civil service job that I enjoyed most. My colleagues hated what we called 'site cases'. Churches were entitled to grants for building a school on a piece of land that they owned. It could get very complicated because they might have bought a large parcel of land and only part of it was going to be used for a school. Sometimes they tried to claim grant on the same piece of land more than once! Someone therefore had to track everything back and find out the history of the piece of land in question. Documents and plans could go back decades and files could be several inches thick, but I loved sorting it all out and presenting everything concisely and clearly. Similarly, I looked on teaching as a puzzle-solving activity, namely you have information or a skill you have to convey to other people, what is the best way to break it down so they can assimilate it most easily?

So transferring this insight to writing fiction, I've always thought of myself as a story-teller and therefore if I couldn't get my stories published, which meant there was no audience, there was no point in writing them down. But if I look on it purely as a huge puzzle and a mental exercise to keep my brain active, I can stop worrying about publication. Suddenly writing has a point again and isn't just a self-indulgence and a waste of time. :)

[Cross-posted from Dreamwidth by way of a backup http://heleninwales.dreamwidth.org/42514.html. If you want to leave a comment, please use whichever site you find most convenient. Comments so far: comment count unavailable.]

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6 comments or Leave a comment
del_c From: del_c Date: May 18th, 2012 09:59 am (UTC) (Link)
It's funny how people fall into the mind set that it's not worth writing a novel if you're not going to be paid for it. There are other art forms that are difficult to impossible to get money for, like poetry, painting, and photography, that few people would shy away from just because they weren't profitable.

On the other hand (just thought of this as I wrote the above) a poem , painting, or photograph is something you can show your friends without a massive investment of time on their part, and even amateur artists like an audience. So maybe what makes a novel like a big sudoku (or a giant RPG campaign) is that you can proudly tell your friends you did it, but it's hard to proudly show them, unless they pay a lot of attention.
readthisandweep From: readthisandweep Date: May 18th, 2012 10:11 am (UTC) (Link)
What a nice post.

I agree - writing, for some of us is its own reward. And I love the idea of story as puzzle.

Although we may dream of being published, it doesn't have to be the driving force. I've always thought of myself as a story teller rather than an author per se. And there is always an audience, it's only a matter of tracking it/them down!

And there's a point too, in my view, far beyond self-indulgence. Writing a story, a book, a poem, a thesis, even a letter, is first & foremost an act of creativity. If we take it further than simply making something up in the moment (or writing because we have to: dissertation et al) the process becomes more & more complex, exciting & ultimately rewarding.

Story tellers untangle threads (or maybe leave a few for their listeners/readers to unravel for themselves?) I can't imagine not doing it. I can imagine being published & even vaguely well-known, but I certainly don't crave recognition.

When it does occasionally happen (as it did the other day - a girl in shop recognised me from the photo on the back of Weaving) it was funny as much as anything!

May your Muse be with you!
khiemtran From: khiemtran Date: May 18th, 2012 11:01 am (UTC) (Link)
My general career advice to anyone these days is "Be a problem-solver". If there's one thing the world will never run out of, it's problems...
From: cmcmck Date: May 18th, 2012 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I must admit that while have had stuff published (aside from historical research that is) I really write poetry because I write poetry- no reason other than that I enjoy doing it (or at one time because it was a way of dealing with massive angst and personal pain. :o)

I'm also a story teller although I've never written one down- it came from working with kids, segued through family research and went on from there.
pickledginger From: pickledginger Date: May 19th, 2012 12:33 am (UTC) (Link)
I like the puzzle image! And I've never seen why anyone would try to write fiction for pay if they wouldn't be trying to write it anyway.
endlessrarities From: endlessrarities Date: June 1st, 2012 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's a nice way of looking at it. And it might explain why I get the same buzz out of archaeology as I do out of writing fiction, because the puzzle-solving principles are similar.
6 comments or Leave a comment