Friday, February 04, 2005

Entering the Zone

Every writer will know exactly what I’m talking about when I say there is no better feeling than when you enter the Zone. It’s that point when you are writing when everything around you falls away and it’s just you and the story. The characters are talking to you, the scene is crystal clear, running like a movie through your brain. The words flow from your fingertips like water pouring from a pitcher. It’s why we put up with all the crap that comes with writing. Being in the Zone is addictive. It’s what I live for, what makes me feel alive. It’s then that the stories swirling in my brain come out for all the world to see.

I tend to enter the Zone late at night. Since I have children, I don’t have true, uninterrupted writing time until after they are in bed and asleep (the asleep part is crucial) which is usually around 9. It takes a good half hour to warm up, not to mention that last check of the e-mail and cruise around the block to see if any blogs have been updated. By ten, I have the music flowing and I’m humming along. Before I know it, my husband is asking me if I’m ever coming to bed, to which I grumble “soon” which really means sometime between two and three. And even then I usually have to force myself to shut down the computer because I’m both exhausted and I know I’ll never make it when the alarm goes off at seven. Thankfully getting older has meant that I don’t require as much sleep. Or rather, thankfully those around me tolerate my grouchiness.

Giving up sleep is a small sacrifice to make, though, since it affords me a good block of consecutive hours in which to work. I don’t know how other writers do it when they talk about writing a paragraph in the fifteen minutes while they drink their first cup of coffee or snatching a half-hour while the kids are napping. I can’t write in tiny snatches. It takes me too long to get up and running, to get the mind lubed up enough that I’m not just staring at the screen trying to remember where I left off and where I wanted to go or rereading what I last wrote simply to catch up. I’m like an eighteen wheeler – I’ve got to work through those low, slow gears first, ramping up to full speed.

Besides, it’s rare and precious to enter the Zone, and nothing is more frustrating for me than to have to leave it. That’s one reason I tend to avoid writing during the day even though I’d get a lot more done if I did. I’ll sit down with two free hours in front of me, but by the time I’m really getting warmed up, it’s time to go pick up a kid or make lunch or start dinner. Walking away from my story is almost physically painful, and the despair is nearly overwhelming because I know I’ll never get back into that same rhythm again. Not to mention the haze I walk around in, still so immersed in my fantasy world that I don’t hear the kids talking to me until they’ve screamed “Mom!” a couple dozen times.

I’ve heard more than one writer claim that having unlimited writing time is really not the blessing most would think it to be. When you have unlimited time, you waste a good portion of it knowing that there is always more. When you only have an hour here or there, you make the most of it. I know that to be true because when I worked my full-time job, I was waaayyy more efficient than I am now. I’m sure if I had a full eight hours a day to write – what I imagine would be the case if writing was my career and I approached it as a real job – I’d goof off for five hours instead of two or stare at the blank screen waiting for the muse to wake up.

Even so, I’m looking forward with great anticipation to the fall of 2006, when my youngest starts full-time school. From the moment I drop the kids off at 8:25 until I have to pick them up at 3, time is mine. Six glorious hours. Sure, there will be laundry and grocery shopping and the usual house-running chores. But for the most part, I can actually treat my writing as a real job. Get up in the morning. Get dressed for work. Sit down at my desk. Take a lunch break. Tie things up in time to get the kids. Go to bed at a decent hour.

Unless, of course, this night-time Zone hitting thing is really an indication that I’m a vampire.


Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, I love the zone! And I miss it! I'm so far from the zone I can't quite recall what it looks like, only that it's pretty there. Everything is simple, clean, flows like...darn it. See? I can't think what it flows like, but that's only because I fell out of the zone about a week back and no amount of wishing brings it around again.
Can we request essays from you, Lynn? I need one on How to Find the Zone When it's Gone Missing, preferably in five easy steps, or less. Or better still, what's your theory on why it's so fickle? Just when a writer has convinced herself she's good at this, the bubble pops, zone departs, and she realizes she's a hack.
Or is it just me?
Somewhat Desperate Wanna-be Author

Yvonne said...

Yeah, the Zone. Been there once. Well, a few times, really, but these days it's a distant memory. Oh, to have more story in my head than the time to write it!

These days I have more time than story, but the rules for winding up to full writing speed still apply. First, I have to read what I wrote yesterday, tweak it, re-read the tweaked version and then tweak it again. Then I have to figure out where I was intending to go next with the story - which entails reviewing all my copious notes - and when that's done, I have to figure out how I'm going to get there. After that, I have to figure out how the scene to get me there is going to begin. Then it all gets too hard so I go back to the stuff I wrote yesterday and re-read the re-re-tweaked version. Having satisfied myself that it's still okay, I go back to this scene I'm supposed to be starting. Now I've forgotten the bunch of half-formed ideas I had in my head before I went back to tweak, so I have to figure out some new stuff.

After about two hours of the above, I might actually start writing new stuff. However, by this time, it's late and I've got work tomorrow so, if I'm lucky, I manage a measly hour writing new stuff and then head to bed.

Please, please, please, let me find the Zone again soon! Time doesn't matter in the Zone. Re-re-reading and re-re-tweaking don't exist in the Zone.