Monday, October 15, 2012

Sudoku and the Art of Writing

I love puzzles. The more difficult, the better. Sudoku* is one of those puzzle games that varies in difficulty, but when I find a challenging one, I can't let it go. The other day I was pulling my hair out over an expert level Sudoku puzzle and I realised how similar it was to writing. Here's what I learned:

Practise improves performance. The more I do the puzzles, the better I am at solving them. I grow familiar with what to look out for, plus it takes me less time to get it right. The same with writing. The more I write, the better I become. I grow more skilled at creating believable characters, I grow more familiar with what to look out for to improve the story, and it takes me less time to get it right.

A methodical approach aids clarity of thought. When I approach Sudoku in a haphazard way, I inevitably get lost in the maze of possibilities and I make a mistake. When I approach the puzzle in a more methodical way, carefully mapping out, and taking note of the possibilities, mistakes are far fewer. The same goes with writing.

Patience eases the process. When I'm in a hurry to solve a puzzle, I invariably make a mistake or I simply don't do a good job. The process becomes a struggle and, when I'm in that frame of mind, I'll be more likely to give up. Writing also takes time and requires oodles of patience to get it right. And without patience, I forget to enjoy the process.

Breaks are necessary for clearing the mind. For the more difficult puzzles, I'll get stumped and can't move on. If I take a break from the puzzle, then when I return I'm more able to spot the solution because I'm looking at it with a clearer mind. Writing requires me to take occasional breaks from it as well. If I don't take a break then I get mired in the little details and can't see the big picture, or my writing simply becomes stale.

Sometimes it takes stubborn persistence to finish. While some Sudoku puzzles seem impossible, I know there is always a solution. It just takes some persistence to get it done. The same goes for writing. If I stick with it, I'll get the result I want.

Just because the way is messy, doesn't mean the end result can't be achieved. I might be an artist, but I'm terrible at visualising an end result. I have to write or draw everything down to be able to 'see' it. I guess that's why I love to outline first. For Sudoku, this means I write down all the number possibilities in the little boxes. As you can see in the picture, there's hardly enough room for all that mess, but it brings me the result I crave: a solved puzzle. With writing, I make a similar mess in the outlining process. I used to stress about the amount of notes I needed, about the scribbled changes, the tangled arrows, the scratched out ideas. Then I realised that mess is great if it gets me the end result I want. Besides, no one will see the process. They will only ever see the shiny finished manuscript.

Which of these points resonates with you the most? Can you add any other similarities? Have you ever played Sudoku?

*Sudoku is a puzzle traditionally solved when each of the digits 1 to 9 appear once in each of the 9 rows, 9 columns and 9 3x3 boxes.

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55 comments:

  1. Great analogy! I tend to play Picross rather than Sudoku (similar logic puzzle but the end result is a shaded in picture).

    I think the one that best applies is the usefulness of a methodical approach. I love the application of logic to slowly reveal the answer, and the same applies with writing. Another sign that I should be less pantser and more plotter :)

    Jamie

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    1. Oh, I've not tried Picross. I'll have to give it a go if I see one.

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  2. Isn't it amazing how we can relate just about everything to some part of the writing craft. No 1 resonates with me, as I'm a great believe in getting those 'bad' words out and moving onto the good stuff (Ray Bradbury). Also, as much as we want to keep at it, a break makes it fresher next time we pick up where we left off.
    Excellent analogy Lynda. Helps me as I slog away here doing a rewrite. :D

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  3. I like Sudoku and I identify with all of these :)

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  4. Sometimes when I write, I feel like I'm going through a maze and each time I turn, I have to confront a new movement in the plot or some opportunity for character development. Sometimes there are dead ends and sometimes there are new pathways.

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  5. Liked the messy one! I enjoy brain games and have a number of them on my iPad.
    Breaks do help, but sometimes, it's just darned determination that gets me through.

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  6. I love sudokus and always look forward to my daily paper's sudokus!! It definitely makes me focus and helps me cut out all extraneous noise so I am totally immersed in it! It also makes me very tired afterwards and I just want to sleep!! I guess I can totally see the writing parallels here! Take care
    x

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    1. Yes!! When I'm totally immersed in my writing it makes me tired afterwards too... but it's a good tired :)

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  7. I love sudoku though I could never do an expert one.

    Like you, I'm not good at visualizing the end result. I don't outline for my books but for everything else in life I make graphs, and lists and calenders so I can see what needs to be.

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  8. never played a sudoku :)
    Things can often seem messy while we're doing them and then appear all nice and tight in the end :) Sometimes when I read my translation I don't have a feeling I did it, but some other, very nice and disciplined and apt guy LOL

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    1. I'm familiar with that disconnected feeling when I go back and read a piece I've written. My theory is that there is an elf that comes out at night and rewrites everything and adds a touch of magic. You might have your own elf too!! ;)

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    2. or maybe I'm just guided by the magical powers of my Elven mistress Galadriel who puts magical ink in my quill when I write :)

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    3. I think you're onto something there, Dezzy. Perhaps you could bottle that ink and sell it for millions!

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  9. I am terrible at puzzles and never do them, but I agree with your points. Especially the breaks. Sometimes, it's best to walk away for a while.

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  10. love puzzles & sudokus! and your analogies are sparkling!
    sometimes looking at the puzzle/ story from different angles/perspectives helps too!

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  11. I've never been much of a sudoku fan, but I can see what you mean in your tips! I probably should be more methodical in my approach to writing, but maybe I just like messy at times, lol! :)

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  12. I enjoy sudokus and crossword puzzles. All these points about solving them ring true for writing as well.

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  13. Great analogy Lynda. Persistence, patience and enthusiasm is the key to success in any field.

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  14. Patient and methodical as part of the writing process - makes a lot of sense to me.

    Just yesterday I started an account at luminosity.com to do some brain exercises. I want to keep my brain agile and strong to be a better writer. Sudoku is one of the ways that people can do that and I love it.

    Jai

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  15. Great analogy. Breaks are necessary in anything we are working hard at. It refreshes the mind, body, and spirit.

    I have played Sodoku.

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  16. The point that resonates with me the most is "patience eases the process." It's something I am constantly working on. I have not played Sodoku, but have friends who have. Maybe I'll give it a whirl - I love Scrabble.

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    1. Sudoku is a new thing for me. My mum and aunt love the puzzle and have played it for years, but I always avoided it because it had--gasp--numbers, lol. As soon as I realised it wasn't a maths puzzle, I gave it a whirl. Glad I did!

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  17. I love puzzles too! But I've never played Sudoku. Great analogy, Lyn!

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  18. Never done Sudoku. I like Boggle and crossword puzzles though.

    And I'm very methodical like that when I'm writing. I take very slow deliberate steps when I'm going through my first draft. I've often thought writing was like puzzle solving or even playing chess and trying to keep track of all the pieces on the board.

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    1. yes!! Very much like chess! Especially when the characters start to take over and story threads start going in unexpected directions, hehehe.

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  19. I notice that my drafts speed up and get better over time. Revisions are less cumbersome and more like a polishing. Rarely rewriting anymore. And, I love that the mess can be made into something beautiful. I'm not afraid to make a mess anymore. Sometimes we need to. :)

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  20. Sudoku is a lot of fun! I have one of those daily calendars with a Sudoku puzzle per day.

    I would say don't do puzzles, or write, when tired. What comes out may not make any sense when you read back through it.

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    1. lol, yeah, I discovered that truth today! hahaha

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  21. I have never played Sudoku; maybe I should try it. I got hooked on Tetris years ago on my son's Game Boy. He left it here for me when he moved out, and once in a while I'll pick it up and play. Love all these points, but the final one hits closest to home. It still amazes me sometimes how things get all wrapped up.

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  22. Those are all perfect points and I couldn't agree more. But uh, I can't do sudoku. I can barely spell it. Oy!

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  23. What an excellent comparison! I think what I love most is practice improves the performance. So true! The habit of writing, even bad writing or can't-get-through-this-paragraph-today writing, makes us better writers.

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  24. This is a great analogy and I love sudoku. I agree with taking a break from your writing and then returning with a fresh set of eyes.

    And agree with your last statements. No one has to see all the messy parts. All that matters is the end result.

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  25. I'm not good at Sudoku since I've only played it a few times, but I agree with the analogy. I see this in some of the other games I've played.

    I can't help but think how some things I do today in writing are either easy or so much easier compared to what I was doing years ago.

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  26. I've not thought about it in relation to writing, but I do love Sudoku. I do an online version, usually when I'm having trouble with my writing. Thinking about numbers and problem solving helps to free my sub-conscious mind to come up with my writing answers.

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  27. Great points, Lynda. I especially liked how no one saw the mess on the desk, only the finished manuscript. I never got into Sudoku, but the commenter who mentioned Picross stirred my interest. I love puzzles and how they come together. Gonna check into Picross. Thanks!

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  28. I like Sudoku, but only the easy ones. :)

    It's so important for me to take breaks when I'm writing. A lot of times, if I'm stumped on a certain phrasing or something, I'll take a break and when I come back to my manuscript I know what to say.

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  29. What a great comparison! I love Sudoku, and I do the same as you. I hadn't thought about how like writing it is, but you're correct. And sometimes it's fun to make a mess!

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    1. For me it's both fun AND necessary to make a mess ;)

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  30. My daughter and manly man enjoy Sudoku- I can't say I'm a fan. Numbers just isn't my thing. :)
    But I agree there are a great deal of similarities from it to writing. I particularly liked the one where the more you practice the easier it is to spot what you need. I think that can apply to editing as well.

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    1. numbers aren't my thing either. That's why it took me a while to 'discover' sudoku.

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  31. I'm rubbish at Soduku puzzles, but I really liked the comparisons you drew between them and writing. What I really identified with was the point about taking breaks, because that's something I'm figuring out right now--I've always heard how important it is to make sure to write each day, but sometimes you just have to take a break and let yourself recharge.

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    1. yes, I think sometimes writers think they have to work themselves to the bone otherwise they can't be called 'real' writers. I say 'Pfft!' to that! Breaks are good for creativity!

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  32. I tried Soduku a few times and decided it's not for me. I'm too impatient.

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  33. All good points Lynda. No Soduku for me though!

    Nas

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  34. I think I like the first point, Writing needs practice.

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  35. Funny, I used to write every day, but as of the last month, I have been taking a break once a week just to clear my head, and breathe a little. Good analogy with Soduku.

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  36. What excellent points! I love puzzles. I might try the Soduku. Sounds like fun! To break the day and to help me clear my mind. Very important to give the mind time to rest from our writing. But writing does need practice!

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  37. Never played Sudoku, i don't like numbers...

    You've raised some excellent points, your comparisons are great! I really like your last one about being messy during the process, doesn't mean it'll be a mess at the end.

    I'm at a stage with draft 2 of my novel where I want to shred it! Or throw it out the window, so I'll keep your point in mind as I bite my lip, curse under my breath and plod onwards.

    Good post, thank you.

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    1. Ah, that's a tricky time to be in the novel's life. Best of luck to you.

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  38. Stubborn persistence resonates with me the most--because when faced with puzzles, I usually give up after a while, rather than keep hammering away at them. I don't think it's as much of a problem with my writing, but definitely something I, personally, have to watch out for.

    I've never tried Sudoku . . . though it sounds like fun.

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  39. I tried Sudoku and hated it!! It is harder than writing I think:))

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  40. You know, I've never had the patience for Sudoku. I know it's just a logic puzzle, but the fact that it uses numbers just puts me off. If they replaced the numbers with little symbols like [ :) :P ^_^ ^_~ ;) :D :( :/ >:( ] then maybe I could wrap my head around it!

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