In this post, we look at crosswords and writing to see how the one helps the other.
Reading at the breakfast table was allowed in my family when I was growing up. My brother and I, if we weren’t reading a book, would read the cereal boxes. Thankfully, the cereal we bought always had interesting ‘Did you know’ types of information on the back. My father did the crosswords in the paper. The cryptic crosswords. He had no time or inclination for the other type.
When he was stuck on a clue, he would always open it up to the table, without any preamble. He’d take a sip of tea and say, “Nine letters, something, ‘I’, something, ‘f’, something, something, ‘c’, ‘u’, something, ‘t’. The clue is a ‘not easily I turn a set of gears to secret society’.” Most of the time we were all flummoxed. But occasionally either my brother or I would get it right on the first go and surprise ourselves, as well as my father.
Can Doing Cryptic Crosswords Make You A Better Writer?
Cryptic crosswords are great for forcing the brain to think, to make odd connections between one idea and another, to apply knowledge of one thing to solve a problem in another.
6 Skills That Doing Cryptic Crosswords Teach You That Are Invaluable For Writers
- Knowledge. Knowing ‘stuff’ is important, but it’s how you use it, certainly as a writer, that matters. For example, depending on the number of letters, there are at least 38, if not more, words you could use instead of sailor.
- Vocabulary. This might seem the same as knowledge but differs in the fact that vocabulary is not merely knowing different words, but being able to use them in the right way in the right context.
- Memory. The act of learning a vast number of new words, their meanings and how to use them helps to build your memory. And a good memory is an essential skill for a writer. Not just remembering words, but events in the writer’s own life, or in the history of the world. Recalling odd, strange little facts, faces, names, the appearance of locations, designs, or actions, habits people have or had that you can weave into your book that gives it that little extra kick. Everyone knows what a New York taxi looks like, but a good memory can describe the smell of the seats, the sweet wrapper that was stuck in the door’s side pocket, the way the driver’s hair curled around his ear. A writer with a good memory can do this because they’d seen it or smelled it in other cars…and they remembered.
- Attention. Cryptic crossword puzzles can’t be done in a hurry or a slapdash fashion. They force you to focus. In our world of bite-sized pieces of information, scanning rather than reading, we’ve forgotten how to focus and are easily distracted. We need to relearn the skill of sifting through information in a concentrated fashion, make the right connections, discard the nonsense, and then, if you are a writer, create something entirely new. An interesting aside: In 1942, the British newspaper, the Telegraph had complaints pouring in from avid crossword fans. The Cryptic crosswords appearing in the paper were too easy. So, a time challenge was created: solve the crossword in under 12 minutes, and under test conditions. Out of the many people that took up the challenge only 5 did it under 12 minutes. The challenge was then opened to the public with the crossword appearing in the paper the next day. Unbeknown to the public, the War Office was trying to recruit people for a secret organisation. They were keen to see the results. After the event, letters were sent to those who had solved the crossword in the fastest time inviting them to take up a new career – code cracking at Bletchley Park.
- Spelling. It may seem old fashioned to say that spelling is important when we have Spellchecker on nearly every device we carry these days. But spelling is important. Not only does it save time, but it develops within us the ability to sense when something is ‘off’. A very useful trait in a writer, especially when editing. Not only should we be able to pick out words that Spellchecker has missed, but also when sentences don’t read true, when paragraphs have become too involved, too twisty, or are simply in the wrong place.
- Better cognitive ability. Research shows that people with mild memory problems who took up doing crosswords on a regular basis, showed cognition improvement and less brain shrinkage. At a basic level, crosswords teach you how to think. Why should we think when we can just leave it to AI? That’s exactly why you should think, think harder, cleaner, sharper, deeper. AI relies purely on plagiarism, stealing from the humans who have gone before. Personally, I want to be the human with whom they can’t keep up.
The Last Word
Ten points if you guessed the answer to the crossword clue at the beginning of the blog. And, if you have always wanted to learn how to write a book, how ideas move from mind to page and beyond, then sign up for a course with Writers Write It’s the perfect place to learn and take the journey to being an author.
by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series and The Device Hunter. Elaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.
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