What Crossword Puzzles Teach About Writing

A couple of weeks ago on American Idol, contestant David Cook did a video sharing his love of doing crossword puzzles.  Simon, @#$%hole that he is, told David he didn’t think he’d done himself any favors with the video, implying that doing crossword puzzles was a somewhat wimpy activity at odds with David Cook’s hard-rocking image.

But I disagree.  I thought the fact that Cook loves to do crossword puzzles only added to his charm, no doubt because I am an inveterate  crossword puzzler myself.

And the other morning, when I was indulging my daily habit, I realized that crossword puzzles are not only good for David Cook and keeping Alzheimer’s at bay, they are also excellent practice for writing.  Yes, writing.  And why might that be?

For several reasons:

1.  You’ll do best at crosswords if you don’t second guess yourself or try to be perfect.  If you think you know the answer, right it in.  You might end up erasing it, but writing the word helps you see if it fits or not and may lead to other correct answers.  The same is also true in writing.  The key to writing regularly is to write something, anything down on paper and don’t worry about perfection.  You’ll probably end up deleting it or changing it, but at least it gives you something to work against.

2.  A word can have more than 2 meanings.  Well, duh.  Many of them do.  But in doing crossword puzzles you have to expand your mind to encompass all the possible meanings of a word.  I often sometimes  get one specific meaning of the word in the clue in my mind and that’s all I can think of.  I ponder and ponder and ponder and finally get the answer from filling in the surrounding words–only to see that it was a secondary meaning that provided the answer.  In this way, doing crosswords forces you to expand your mind.   So often in writing, I get stuck looking at a scene in a certain way.  I ponder and ponder and ponder and then when I finally figure out why I was stuck, its because I should have been seeking the different meaning in the scene.

3.  There’s always a way in, you just have to find it.  The common impulse in solving crosswords is the start in the upper left-hand corner, with the clues numbered one.  But if none of those clues seem solvable, cast your net further.  Try the opposite corner, or the upper right-hand one.  I read this bit of advice in a book on crosswords once and couldn’t believe how obvious it was.  I’d always done this.  But then it occurred to me that many people, perfectionists that they tend to be, give up if they don’t immediately see that they can be successful at solving the puzzle.  So, too, in writing.  Once we can’t figure something out, we tend to give up.  But remember there is always a way in with writing, too.  Try moving the scene or putting in a different character’s viewpoint.  Experiment with starting with descriptive imagery instead of dialogue, or vice-versa.  There’s always a way in–you just have to find it.

4.  Crossword puzzlers learn all kinds of random words.  Like Ani, which is a black cuckoo.  Or adit, which is an entrance to a mine.  Or how about ort, which is a scrap of food?   Anil is a kind of indigo dye, and erat is part of Q.E.D. which, my son the math brain tells me, is something you write at the end of proofs (but don’t quote me on that).  The point is that doing crossword puzzles means you are working with words, gaining an ease with them, learning how they can be manipulated and changed and fit together and pulled apart.  And a facility with words is what writing is all about, no?

So there are my 4 reasons why crosswords and writing are sort of the same. And why David Cook is way cooler than Simon, because clearly David knows way more about creativity and writing and how crosswords can really teach you just about everything you need to know.

If you want to learn more about writing, consider joining the one-on-one mentoring program at the Loft, or if you need help getting to it, email me about writing coaching.

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