I was helping my client sort out the arc of her novel a few days ago. We finally tracked down the illusive flow of her book in the pursuit of “idea, concept, premise,” as taught by Larry Brooks in his popular Willamette Writers’ conference workshop.
She commented that, although it was sometimes difficult to find certain pieces, when they were “discovered” the entire picture often fell right into place.
I shared with her a conversation I’d had with my dad just a few days before.
Well, first some back story. On Christmas Day I called home and my dad told me my brother had given him a set of six jigsaw puzzles. He’d started on one of them, but he was disappointed to see that there seemed to be missing pieces.
This struck me as unlikely as my brother is the most thoughtful and generous gift-giver on the planet, and he never gives anything but the best.
I puzzled over the puzzle puzzle. A month later I asked my dad how the puzzles were coming along. He said he’d now opened two more and they all had pieces missing. “When we were kids,” he said, “we’d always find the straight edges first, put the frame together and then fill in the middle. But all the straight edges are missing from these puzzles.”
I said, “Well, maybe the edges aren’t straight.”
I could tell my comment didn’t land on fertile ground. He politely didn’t want to argue, but what I’d said didn’t make sense to him. He had a picture in his mind’s eye from his childhood that puzzles had straight edges.
The puzzle talk came up again a couple of months later. Same story. He’d opened yet another of the puzzles and it, too, had missing pieces. There were no straight edges.
Again I mentioned that perhaps these puzzles did not have straight edges. Again, I could tell he thought I wasn’t making sense, although too polite to say so.
Back to the present: So. I called my parents a few days ago to wish them a happy anniversary. In the course of conversation I asked my dad if he’d managed to put any of the puzzles together.
He said he gotten yet another one of them out, and it had been sitting on the table for three weeks. Same story. It was missing its frame as there were no straight edges. He said he’d separated out all the colors and put them in their own piles. He’d gotten a few pieces to go together, but the frame was missing.
I said, “Maybe the outside edges aren’t straight. Maybe they’re wavy.”
Then he said, quizzically, “What?”
“Maybe the outside edges are wavy.”
Then, “Well … hmmm … I never thought of that.”
Now, you may be thinking I slapped my palm to my forehead at that point. But I didn’t. Having been a psychotherapist for the better part of two decades, and having told people things again … and again … and again … (and yet again), to have them one day repeat what I said like it was the first time they’ve heard it, I’ve learned that people simply do not hear or see or know certain things until they are ready.
So! Whether you’re writing a book, putting together puzzles, growing your business, trying to work out a troubled relationship, or any other challenge life presents and you’re looking for the familiar straight edges to frame the challenge, look for the wavy edges.
You may have the sudden insight that all the pieces are there after all.