The Jigsaw as a Metaphor

The Jigsaw as a Metaphor

I am writing this on New Year’s Eve which, for me, feels poignant and relevant but for you, the magic of it has already worn off.  We all know what kind of year this has been and, of course, I am looking forward to a new one. It feels right, however, to stand back and look at what I have learnt. 

I think I have seen the trick in non-fiction. The knack, the secret. It makes reading it effortless but writing it so full of effort it’s sometimes easier to give up. 

Writing non-fiction is like a jigsaw. A jigsaw bought at a charity shop. I have no idea if all the pieces are there when I start it, but I start it anyway. I pour the pieces out onto the table and it looks unsurmountable. So many different coloured bits, so many odd shapes. It’s a mess, it’s an uncoherent picture that does not tell a story. But I know a story is in there somewhere. In fact, sometimes there is more than one story. Sometimes, three puzzles were mixed up together in the box and sent to the charity shop. It takes ages to take out the bits that don’t fit but it’s worth it. Eventually. And sometimes, you never know, you might find the whole puzzles for those other pieces and make new stories.

When I am on the verge of starting it, I can’t sleep. All the bits are floating around my head. How does it all fit? Where should I start? Personally, I start with the edge pieces. I collect them all and start shaping the frame, and only then do I start to fill in the middle bits, the sky, the mountains, the tiny bits of nothing that actually act as glue to the whole picture. My partner, perversely and possibly worryingly, starts in the centre and works out. What kind of madness is this? (This is something else I have re-learnt – we all do things very differently.)

If the picture on the box is a detailed one, it’s easier. It’s like having a strong sentence to start with. A plan, a base. An arrow pointing in the right direction. Although, this is not always the case.

For instance, for this essay, I could have written something like this:

For me, writing non-fiction is like a jigsaw puzzle. (Etc etc)

The first jigsaw puzzle was created by a map engraver called John Spilsbury, in 1762. He mounted one of his maps onto wood and then cut around the countries. He gave it to children in the local school to help them with their geography education. The word jigsaw comes from the actual saw that was used to cut out the puzzles in the late 1800’s. 

Well, I think that fact is fascinating. This framework is useful and interesting. Then, last summer, Jake Wolff, a Creative Writing Professor at the University of Central Florida tweeted something that made me go hot all over. 

Creative nonfiction writers be like: I first ate a hotdog when I was six years old. I remember the taste, the scent, the summer. 

SECTION BREAK 

Hot dogs were invented in 1693 by Steven Hotdog. According to Scientific American, the hotdog is…” 

Shit. Did everyone do this? Is this lazy? Is this a trap? Was this a flawed structure? Wait, did I have to follow a structure at all? No, I don’t. But personally, and this year made me understand more than ever, I find it easier to have some sort of framework. But the tweet made me think twice about which pieces of the puzzle actually fitted and which ones just looked like they did. (Those pesky blue sky bits.)

I read this year. Not more than normal but I did manage to read a hefty pile of non-fiction books and essays. I discovered Rachels Cusk’s non-fiction. Her essays often stunned me into looking blankly into space. How did she do it? I could not see any pieces jammed together where they shouldn’t be. In fact, all her pieces fitted so snugly together it was like looking at a photograph not a puzzle. Zadie Smith’s essays are the same. So shiny and real. So smooth. Like a magic trick. You see why it’s harder to write now – because I can see the cracks in my own writing, where the pieces are wedged in and don’t actually fit at all.

Apparently, at the start of lockdown puzzle sales went up 370%. People wanted something to do at home, to work their brains, their hands and their eyes. To pass time as a family, or on their own. Images of exotic locations sold particularly well. I am not surprised. I took to sorting out the pieces of my own puzzles as an escape. I wrote about the two houses I grew up in. The woods, the fireside, the country shows I went to. I wrote about class and family and motherhood. I wanted to knit memories in with the here and now to try and make sense of it. 

The last day of the year means nothing really. The world will keep turning. It’s only another day. (Did you know our current calendar follows the example of the ancient Babylonians who established the seven-day week based on the cycles of the moon. But that’s a piece from another puzzle – you can tell, it’s interesting but it doesn’t quite fit here, right?) 

Hogmanay still feels, somehow, like the last piece of a 365-piece puzzle.  Wait, 2020 was a leap year, wasn’t it? A 366-piece jigsaw puzzle. Maybe that was what was wrong with it. We have a piece left over that doesn’t fit in anywhere. Put it in the drawer. We might need it one day.

GUEST AUTHOR
Rebecca Smith is a writer and audio producer. She is due to graduate from Glasgow University with an MLitt in Creative Writing and is currently writing about the rural working-class.

Epoch Press
Epoch Press

Epoch Press is an independent press dedicated to publishing exceptional creative nonfiction.
We publish truth in ink.

386 Comments

  1. 6 September, 2021 / 10:34 pm

    I truly enjoy studying on this site, it has wonderful blog posts. “Don’t put too fine a point to your wit for fear it should get blunted.” by Miguel de Cervantes.

  2. 2 November, 2021 / 11:28 am

    Really enjoyed reading this post. Succinctly written and I loved the metaphor of the ill-fitting puzzle pieces. The process you follow in writing CNF sounds much like my own experience. Good to know other writers experience the same frustration (but hopefully the eventual ‘triumph’). A rewarding piece. Thank you.

  3. 28 January, 2022 / 8:16 am

    Very nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I am hoping you write again very soon!

  4. 5 February, 2022 / 3:04 am

    there are portable wine coolers which also fit in a small office space. i use them in my home office**

  5. 12 February, 2022 / 3:49 pm

    Hello i am so delighted I discovered your blog, I actually discovered you by error, while I was searching Yahoo for something else, Anyways I am here now and would just like to say thanks for a great blog posting and a all round absorbing blog (I also love the theme/design), I do not have time to read it all at the right now but I have bookmarked it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read more,

  6. 12 February, 2022 / 11:55 pm

    Sweet blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Appreciate it

  7. 14 February, 2022 / 12:10 pm

    Hi, i think that i saw you visited my weblog so i came to “return the favor”.I’m trying to find things to enhance my site!I suppose its ok to use some of your ideas!!

  8. 14 February, 2022 / 6:28 pm

    I have learn several just right stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much attempt you place to make this sort of excellent informative website.

  9. 17 February, 2022 / 9:23 am

    This will be the correct weblog for hopes to be made aware of this topic. You recognize a great deal its practically challenging to argue along with you (not too I really would want…HaHa). You definitely put a different spin on the topic thats been revealed for a long time. Fantastic stuff, just fantastic!

  10. 4 March, 2022 / 8:47 am

    This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your fantastic post. Also, I’ve shared your web site in my social networks!

  11. Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything like this before. So nice to search out somebody with some authentic thoughts on this subject. realy thanks for beginning this up. this web site is one thing that’s needed on the net, someone with a bit of originality. useful job for bringing one thing new to the web!

  12. 20 March, 2022 / 8:16 am

    Just wish to say your article is as amazing. The clearness to your submit is simply cool and that i could suppose you’re a professional in this subject. Well along with your permission allow me to snatch your RSS feed to stay up to date with impending post. Thank you a million and please continue the rewarding work.

  13. 1 April, 2022 / 8:42 pm

    I have not checked in here for some time as I thought it was getting boring, but the last several posts are great quality so I guess I¦ll add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend 🙂

  14. 13 April, 2022 / 7:11 pm

    I’ve been browsing online more than 3 hours these days, but I by no means found any interesting article like yours. It¦s lovely price sufficient for me. In my opinion, if all webmasters and bloggers made just right content material as you probably did, the web can be much more helpful than ever before.

  15. 17 April, 2022 / 9:00 pm

    obviously like your website however you have to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very troublesome to inform the truth on the other hand I will certainly come back again.

  16. 20 May, 2022 / 9:58 am

    The Adobe Flash Player, which processes more than three-quarters of all visits to Web sites powered by the open-source Adobe Flash technology.
    This security flaw allows attackers to steal data from vulnerable Adobe Flash-based websites. This allows attackers to steal user data such as an email address, a user identification, password, session ID or credit card details, and even financial information, such as the account balance in the user’s banking and credit card accounts, via the stolen email address. https://handnaptiojour.weebly.com

    6add127376 jaevann

  17. 20 May, 2022 / 12:59 pm

    Mgosoft Simple Converter is a powerful and flexible tool that can convert various formats…

    Native PDF plugin

    Econopdf is one of our professional PDF plugin(for example:- Acrobat Reader,Adobe Acrobat,Acrobat Pro,In Design,Windows,Mac OS X),which provides all the important components of PDF and lets you edit,compress,decompress,password protect,print,search,view,fill,annotate PDF documents https://dekilrecep.weebly.com

    6add127376 denyard

  18. 20 May, 2022 / 4:17 pm

    The X-SendFile, mod_php, mod_perl and mod_ruby directives are also supported.

    “I would like to note that webmasters and developers using MyServer are extremely satisfied. As long as you use good protocols and protocols with the functionality MyServer can deal with 100% of your site.”

    – Jonathan Zeiger (Extreme Programming Engineer and Technical Developer for many web hosting companies.)

    Saturday, April 11, 2018

    The MyServer website recently https://arabarla.weebly.com

    6add127376 berrabb

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.