The Zone

05.16.05 | 1 Comment

This past weekend, Kyle made a comment about writing in “the zone”. Today Martin mentioned wanting to start writing again. Consequently, it seems like a good time to talk about writing.

Writers, just like baseball players, programmers, or just about any other skilled professional, get in a “zone”. What do I mean by that? Well, chances are good that you already know. “The Zone” is literally a state of mind. It’s what allows baseball players to know exactly where the ball will land when they hit it or programmers to always think several steps ahead of the code they’re writing. It’s a state of consciousness in which we lose ourselves in the moment. We no longer have to think about doing something, we just do it and it’s right. Like an athlete who has worked past the wall of pain, there’s a feeling of uphoria when you’re in the Zone. Like any drug, once you experience it, you want to keep experiencing it.

Writing in the Zone means not having to think about what happens next. The story seemingly tells itself. You just sit back and record what is happening. You instinctively understand the characters so well that they write themselves. There’s no longer a question of what happens next because they simply they speak and act exactly the way they would in real life. The hardest part is keeping up. Your brain is making connections in new and interesting ways so quickly that it is sometimes hard to record it all before you’ve already moved on to another brilliant scene.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe it was Conan author Robert E. Howard who once said that the idea came to him in a dream and he didn’t so much write the stories as report them. Or maybe it was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Anyway, hybergraphia is the (sometimes overwhelming) compulsion to write. It’s like being in the Zone so completely that the ideas are crowding one another to get out. So many neurons are firing that the only way to releave the pressure is by writing them out. It’s a disease many authors would probably pay quite a bit of money to have, although they may find that they got more than they bargained for.

I say all this when I try to explain that I’ve been working outside the Zone for so long. Getting into that frame of mind takes time; usually 45 minutes to an hour or more. Of course, the more practice you get and the better you are, the easier it is to slip back in.

Those of you who stumbled upon this blog through a forum post or some other external link may be surprised to learn that there is no 12 to Midnight office building. No building, no suite, not even a single cramped room. Like all but very, very few publishers, 12 to Midnight exists primarily in our minds and in our work. Like you, each of us have full time day jobs. Teacher, engineer, CPA, advertiser–we all toil at our jobs each day. The difference is in how we spend our spare time. We come home, spend time with our families, then turn to our respective computers and scratch out a few more pages of material. Working in this way has all sort of ramifications for our operations, including on writing.

As I said before, getting in the Zone takes time. Rather than working for four hours straight, three of which is in the Zone, I may work an hour a night for four nights, never really reaching that plateau. Or like last night, getting there for only a short while. As I’ve said several times before, I stopped writing altogether for several months and let myself get rusty. Since I don’t have the leisure of having long stretches in which to write, I need to keep polished and write more frequently. It’s the only way I can improve my skills and consequently shorten the time it takes to get in the writing Zone.

My challenge to you is similar. What do you enjoy doing really well? How often do you do it? Then maybe you should be doing that right now instead of reading this.

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1 Comment

Comment by Jerry
2005-05-23 11:50:40

One trick for getting in the zone and achieving it again the next block is time management. What you do is allote one hour, say 9 to 10, for example. You can do more or less. Set an alarm so you know when the time is complete. During that hour you write, ignore the phone everything else. When the alarm goes off, stop writing. Even if you are in mid sentence. Stop! Save.

Your mind will keep working on finishing that sentence and taking it beyond. Try it. It works for some folks. It tough, because you want to go on. But some folks believe this keeps them in the zone.

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