Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Admire the Problem

"The Dragon"
One of the most used Aps on my iPhone is “Shanghai” (not to be confused with the multi-player card game), a game in which the player matches tiles in order to clear themed boards such as a “Dragon,” a “Beatle,” a “Coffee Cup,” and the like. As far back as I can remember this style of game has been my favorite distraction when mulling over a problem or when needing to kill some time in a waiting room.

The thing I enjoy the most about “Shanghai” is that when I finish a board I’m treated to three “Fortunes.” True to form, some of the sayings are vague (ie. Your emotional nature is strong and emotional), some are rather comical (ie. Never, ever fry bacon in the nude), and some just really make you think.

Enlightenment comes while ducking the “unsolvable” riddle

The other day while avoiding my keyboard I noticed something interesting — when I consider the entire board I am able to find multiple matches at once, when I look for a specific match I tend to get stuck. Then I get frustrated and have to put it down for a bit. It’s very similar to what happens when I’m writing. When I focus too much on one particular aspect of the story without considering the entire plot I get blocked, I get frustrated, and I pick up my phone.

I think the game read my mind while I was thinking those thoughts because when I finished my puzzle it gave me the following fortune:

If you don’t have a solution, you should admire the problem.

Now I know what admire means, but I decided to turn to my dictionary and read the definition again. The origin of the word, according to Merriam-Webster, is “from the Middle French admirer, to marvel at, from Latin admirari, from ad- + mirari to wonder…” Synonyms include: appreciate, consider, esteem, regard, respect, and set store by.

Going by that definition I returned to mulling over my “fortune.”

When we take the time to admire a problem we’re able to distance ourselves from it, to consider it from all angles before coming to a conclusion —one that may actually be something we wouldn’t at all have considered had we just been staring at one aspect of problem itself. (This is exactly the sort of thing Sherlock Holmes has been preaching to me since I was in middle school, but like Dr. Watson, too often I see without observing.)

This brought me to my next epiphany...

Writers are by nature problem solvers.

We enjoy creating hopeless scenarios and then working to find THE solution. Like Captain Kirk, we don’t believe in a no-win situation. If we can’t find the answer we’ll rewrite the story to suit our purposes.

And therein lies one of the writer’s biggest challenges.

When a solution does not readily make itself apparent we get frustrated. We curse our inability to write well. We mope about in our pajamas. We avoid our manuscripts saying we’re too busy or too bored with the concept. We obsess. We pout. We threaten to quit. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the moment we step back and throw up our hands…LIGHT BULB!

When we take the time as writers to “admire” the problems we come up against in our writing, to consider them from all angles, a full picture emerges in which the possibilities become readily apparent. Rather than coming at a problem like a hurdle that must be overcome at all costs, perhaps we should approach it as like a piece of artwork that takes a little time, a little patience, and a dash of respect to discover its many mysteries.

Who knows what we’ll uncover when we do.

Your turn! How do you look at problems that arise when you’re writing? What helps you work through them?

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