Oh goodie, WordPress changed their post-writing interface. Again.
Anyway, that’s not what this post is about…
The other night, I sat at my desk, headphones on, Fleetwood Mac singing away in my ears as I struck the keys in a steady rhythm, pounding out the words.
I was in The Zone. My zone. The one where the words flow like water, and I channel them from my inspiration source without thought.
So, of course, that’s when I got the chorus of “Mom! Mommy! Momma! Mom!” from my kids and “Hey hon, you won’t believe this!” from my husband. It’s also when the cat chose to puke on the rug next to me.
I swear, I’m going to erect a steel barrier, soundproofed and sealed, and I’m going to label it The Zone. When Mom is in The Zone, none shall enter. Not even in the event of blood… because there is someone else in this house who can take care of such things.
The problem is, The Zone isn’t so much a physical space or even a lack of distraction. It’s that moment when everything kicks into gear. When fears and doubts take a back seat to characters, motivations and plot. When the scenery flicks through the writer’s mind like she’s living it. Breathing it. Being it. When the character’s lives jump through the writer’s fingers and onto the screen or pad of paper, and the act of writing becomes a conversation with the cosmos.
So how, then, does a writer find her zone?
That’s the trick.
Here’s what I do to open the doors to that writer’s paradise.
1. Limit Distraction
As a mother of two, I know how difficult it can be to limit distractions. I’ve made many changes to my writing environment to ensure that I get a few moments of peace when I write. First and foremost, my computer (where I like to write) is inside a room with a locking door. This might sound harsh, but my children are 9 and 11 years old. They can deal without Mom for 45 minutes while she pounds out some words.
I also limit my distractions by choosing when to write judiciously. I’m able to function well enough at 4:30 AM to get 1000 words down before my family gets up for school and work. When I’m up before the sun rises, I only have to contend with cats for my distraction-free environment. It typically works… as long as there are no hairball incidents.
2. Put On the Tunes — Sometimes
When I write in the mornings, I like to have music. If I carve out evening time to write, I sometimes turn on the tunes, and sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I put my headphones on and pretend like I can’t hear the chorus of “mom, mom, mommy, mom!” because if they think I can’t hear them over my music… they go bug Ken instead.
When you pick your music, think of your scene… a little. Don’t put so much thought into it that it becomes the reason you don’t write. Instead, pull open your music library, grab what looks the most appropriate, and hit play. If it’s not working for you, go choose something else. But don’t mire yourself into the choosing of music.
3. Set Limits, Sans Clock
Whether it’s word count, scene completion, a music playlist, or darkness enshrouding your room (or alternately, the sunrise flooding your window), set your time to write based on a measure that does not involve little numbers at the bottom of your screen. There is nothing that kills creativity like a ticking clock. Think of all those timed tests you had in school. How creative were you when you knew that timer was running? How many better ideas did you have once your mind was free of that countdown shackle?
Clocks are the death of creativity. That is all. Lose your clock and free your characters. Write until they want you to stop.
Or until you have to pee. Which leads me to…
4. Take Care of Basic Needs First
The other night, I sat down at my computer and I was so stressed from my day that the words froze in my brain. I wasn’t writing… I was chinking away at an iceberg that contained what might have been a prize fossil, or possibly a long-held-in-stasis virus ready to set out on the destruction of all mankind. Either way, I wasn’t reaching it, because I wasn’t using an axe, or even ice pick… I was using a letter opener. Or maybe the little fingernail-cleaner-thingy on the end of a pair of nail clippers.
I got up, went upstairs, sat in a hot bath and read. I sipped tea and let the stress of my day melt away. By the time I was done, I was shooting out of the water, drying off as fast as possible and racing downstairs because: story ideas.
Before you write, get that glass of water. Go pee. Make sure you’re fed. Don’t dilly-dally or decide to make a 12 course meal… but for gawd’s sake, grab a sandwich before you set fingers to keyboard. If your body is cared for, you creativity won’t have to compete with your survival mechanisms for brain space.
5. Have a Sense of Humor
Occasionally, the cat is going to yak up a hairball under your feet while you’re writing. Your husband is going to spill his coffee all over his desk. Your kid is going to come to you with her English paper and really, really want you to edit it. After all, you’re an editor. And sometimes, even when you’re fully in the zone… you’ll crash and burn because you start thinking about puppies and pudding and all other words that start with the letter P.
Laugh at yourself. Or better yet, go laugh with your family.
If you’re not feeling it, get up and do something else. Play a game with the kids, go for a run, or go cook that 12 course meal… even if it’s just 12 different flavors of Ramen noodles. Build a fort out of blankets and climb inside. Take yourself out for tea. Watch a stupid movie.
Then, sit back down and write anyway… even if your zone refuses to be in the same room with you. Because when it comes down to it, whether you’re in The Zone or not, you’re a writer. So get to it! Go write.