It’s Puzzling, Why I Write

Every morning while I eat a soft boiled egg and sip a chai latte, I stare at the crossword puzzle to my right and try to figure out the clues. There is no monetary reward for this effort, no prize at the end, no lottery win. There’s only the next page in the puzzle book that my daughter gave me for my birthday this year. My husband studies his New York Times and sometimes reads a salient section aloud to me. And I’ll remember what he read. There’s a story to be told. Not so with my puzzle, which will be out of memory the second I finish it. And I’ll be on to the next puzzle, the next set of seemingly impenetrable clues, the “aha” moment when one comes clear giving others around it adjacent clues to lead me forward. Such is the system with crossword puzzles.


Every year our family gets together at our house for Thanksgiving. And every year we start one of those five thousand piece puzzles. One year a primitive painting from Grandma Moses, another a football stadium (from our son-in-law Phillies fan), another a photograph of our house (a sweet gift from our cleaning lady). The whole family gets in on the puzzle action. I’ve noticed specific techniques with each person. I always start with the outside edges because they’re flat on one side. One of my twin daughters separates the pieces by color. My husband has an enigmatic system that makes no sense but works for him as he assembles swaths of the picture out of context. When we finally finish and take a photo of the assembled puzzle, we break it down and I put the pieces back in the box and we donate it to a charity. What’s left for us is only the experience we had together.


I like solving puzzles and tinkering with problems. My father liked to untie knots. He would hum under his breath as he worked one loose. Often my shoelaces got knotted and he would unknot them for me. I suspect I might have created the knots just so I could watch him figure out how to untie them.


Writing a book is like starting a big puzzle. Yes, words are the medium but for me much of writing is a visual exercise. I “see” the characters and settings. I “see” the action moving forward as I assemble the puzzle out of the chaos of the big box of my mind where it’s stored. It starts as a jumble of impressions and a vague story line that begs to be sorted out and laid into a cohesive whole.

As writers we strive for the poetry in language, for the musical cadence in words and phrases, sentences and paragraphs. But we are, above all else, organizers and contextualizers of the chaos that surrounds us. We are puzzlers of the infinite dedicated to the finite. We tell stories that move us beyond ourselves. That’s why I write. To figure out the puzzle, if only for a brief moment, with no reward in sight, for the sheer loss of self that comes from immersing myself in the process of  bewilderment.




LB Gschwandtner, writer, The Other New Girl

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