The first one is a crossword puzzle. One of my daily RITUALS is to do the New York Times crossword puzzle on my iPad at lunch. I highly recommend it, if for no other reason that the clues are elegant, solid, sure-footed, and consistent—and the really spectacular puzzles are amazing.
Anyway, my practice is to tab through all the Across clues first, filling in the ones I know top to bottom, then continuing through all the Down clues in order. Then I can start concentrating on blank spaces, etc., although generally I will go through the Across/Down matrix at least one more time.
On Mondays, the puzzles are easy. I can knock one out in under 10 minutes, and I have been known to complete a Monday puzzle with the Across clues alone.
As the week goes by, though, the puzzles get harder to solve. (That is mostly a function of the clues getting more tricky, not the answers.) So by the time I get to Friday or Saturday, I can go through all the Across clues and have something that looks like this:
That's pretty bad. This person clearly cannot solve a crossword puzzle. Just look at all those blank spaces—what a maroon!
A beginning puzzle solver might be tempted to internalize all those blank spaces as evidence that they didn't know what they were doing, and quit. Likewise, in a creative project, you might get started—a killer first paragraph, or a great melody, or a tolerable concoction of rye whiskey and some amaro or other—but then after that first burst of creativity you realize that you have all these gaps, these blank spaces, and you have no idea what goes in them.
What a maroon!
ABANDONMENT would be a mistake, though. It's smarter to keep plugging away. Do all the Down clues. Step back. GESTALT. Go back in. SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION. Keep filling the holes, until finally...
See? It all comes together.
You might very well complain that this visual metaphor is flawed in one regard: a crossword puzzle actually has a solution. (And that you can cheat to find it.) Your short story or song or cocktail does not necessarily have one.
You would be correct. As a metaphor for the creative process, the New York Times crossword puzzle is flawed.
So I have a second metaphor for you, which we'll look at on Wednesday: my party patio.