Monday, January 29, 2007

In The Zone

Recently, a member of our goals group posted that she had written 22 pages in one day. Though this excited her, she was mostly enthralled with the euphoria of getting lost in the story, the connection to her characters, the feeling of time slipping away as she immersed herself in the writing process.

You could call this "The Zone."

It is the yearned for state of slipping into our created world, where the words rush so fast you can barely keep up with them. Though many outsiders think this is the way writers always operate, we authors know that this phenomenon can often be hard to find. It only occurs when everything falls into place to create the right atmosphere for it. I can certainly say it doesn't happen as often as I'd like, though I'm hoping to be blessed with it through practice and perseverence.

This reminder made me think about why and how authors enter this enviable state. I'm learning there are a few things conducive to allowing a writer to enter "The Zone":

1. You must be loving your characters and thoroughly connected to them.
Just as your love for your spouse deepens as you get to know him intimately, so it is with characters. And I find that the closer I come to knowing them, to being able to get inside their heads, the easier it is to get lost in the story. Now, non-writers are probably saying, "Huh? Why would you write about characters you don't love?" Well, believe it or not, sometimes characters can be aggravating. Like real people, they don't always want to cooperate. They don't feel like talking. Or they clam up because I'm just not paying them enough attention. Or I may just be momentarily out of love with them because I'm having a bad day. Trust me, it happens. Which leads me to my next point....

2. Everyday life affects our ability to get lost in The Zone.
Have you ever tried to read a book in peace with a child coming up to you every five minutes to ask a question that you MUST answer? Multiply the feeling of frustration this situation provokes by about 100 and you'll be able to imagine writing while the same thing occurs. The phone ringing, a major crisis, pressing errands--life in general is a distraction. I, for one, can't seem to ignore it enough to fully immerse myself in the story with predictable regularity. I might slip away for a while, but the immersion isn't complete. You can't imagine how many times I've wished for a cabin far in the mountains where I could transport each day to write in peace and quiet. (Actually, if you have kids, you probably can.) Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trade my children for anything, but I do occassionally give them away for the blessing of utter silence. :)

3. Writer's block.
Now, some authors claim there is no such thing. But if you've ever tried to write during pregnancy, you'll know in your heart they're wrong. There can be many contributing causes to writers block, and the cures can be just as complicated. But the most frustrating part of it is knowing you are as far from the Zone as you can be. Like having experienced a high point, but knowing you can never have another. You must forever after live in a valley. I shudder to recall my one true bout of it. I would do just about anything not to ever experience it again.

4. Somewhere along the way, something went wrong with the story.
One mistake can throw everything else off track sometimes. This requires backtracking to find the problem, then implementing a solution. The good thing is that you normally can tell when things are back on track because the story once again starts to flow.

I'm sure there are many other aspects to this exhilirating phenomenon that I haven't touched upon, but these are the most important ones for me. And though being in The Zone doesn't happen as often as I'd like, it makes all the hard work worth the effort.

If you are an author, what things or situations do you think help contribute to "The Zone"? If you are a reader, have you found other areas of your life where you encounter this same phenomenon?



Rhonda said...

Ah, The Zone. The only thing that I've learned about The Zone is that a.) I can't force it and b.) it's a fickle, fickle beast. I have no idea what brings it on, but just thank my wonderful muse when she makes this happen. :-)

Problem Child said...

The Zone...I could use a day or two in the zone. I have some catching up to do.

Isn't the Zone a diet too? Maybe I could get into both Zones at once...

Playground Monitor said...

I've been there once. Just once. It was last summer and it was incredible to finally experience what I'd heard others talk about. I don't know what contributes TO it, but I can tell what keeps you from it: stress and illness. They'll both keep me out of the Zone. And since I've been ill or prepping for medical procedures for a large part of this month, there's been no Zone for me.


Instigator said...

I love that place. It doesn't come as often as I'd like but when it does...


Maven Linda Howard said...

You're right, Angel; constant interruptions can keep you out of the zone. Once, about twenty years ago, I hit a Zone and did 22 pages in four hours. My one-day record, I think, is along the lines of fifty-something pages -- finished product. It isn't unusual for me to do thirty pages or so in one day.

To hit the zone, I need NO INTERRUPTIONS! I need to be at a place in the book where the action rolls. I need to be absolutely in love with the characters and the story. This doesn't happen with every book; some books have been like pulling hens' teeth. And, yes, I need good health. I need for my brain to work. I need to have no major worries.

Music doesn't work for me, though it does for some people.

The verification word is yioqmebk. This isn't fair!

Kathy said...

Love this list! I'm weeding through stress, a headache and this blasted cold today, but I'm hoping to one day get back into the Zone.

Anybody watch Jane Eyre last night? Oh, to be able to write like the Bronte sisters.


Nienke said...

I find a similar zone when I work out and when I hike. I can also get lost in a book to the point where I don't know who or where I am.
On the writing side, although it can't be forced, I believe writers can encourage the zone by writing regularly.

Kelley St. John said...

I admit that I count on "the zone" when I determine my deadlines. Luckily, I get at least six hours a day where I'm the only one in the house. Now, I don't automatically move into the zone the moment everyone else vacates the premises. However, if the words don't start flowing (and I don't have time to wait for them), I get in the car and go for a drive.

Most of the time, when I get back from that drive, I can sit down, start typing, and the story clicks right along. So, my advice about finding the zone -- if it doesn't happen naturally, take a drive ;)


Angel said...

Okay, this stupid google/blogger mess have really got me mad.

So for the second time:

Great advice everyone! I never thought of driving, though I'm not sure why. Whenever I go on longer drives, like to Cullman, I use that time to plot and brainstorm. Maybe I'll use that if I get stuck, Kelley.

I also agree that health is important. If I'm sick, especially with a headache, I'm not getting anything creative done. It's all I can do to take care of myself and the kids until my husband gets home.

Yes, I do believe that writing on a regular basis encourages the Zone. How can you expect to live in someone else's world if you never spend any time with them? :)

I have heard of people feeling this way when they exercise. I'm not one of them. All I feel when I exercise is being glad when it's over. :)

Thanks a lot, ladies! I hope you all enjoy the Zone again soon.