12 March 2008

In the zone

Is there anything as wonderful as writing in the zone. You sit down to your computer -- you may or may not feel inspired, and you stare at the blank page, bring up the novel that you've been working on, read over the last few pages, make a few changes, fix a comma, take out that apostrophe in "it's" that shouldn't be there, add a bit more setting, and then suddenly your fingers are alive and trying to keep up with that zinging going on in your brain. You're in the zone. In your character's head. The ideas are coming thick and fast, and you're struggling to keep up. You go, go, go. And keep going. An hour later there are 1500 words on the page, and you know what? They're not too damned bad. You know, though, that in the morning, when the heat has passed, you may look back on them and think they're crap. There's a high probability that this may happen. You expect it. But you know what else? You get up in the morning and look at those words and think, hey, they're not too damned bad!

Inspiration's like that. It can hit at any time. And when it hits writing is magical. At times like that you know that writing is the best thing in the whole world. That's not how you feel when a rejection comes in. Or when you realise you still haven't been paid for that award-winning story that was published twelve months ago, and that the reality is you're not going to be paid for it. Contract or not. Not unless you go and do some serious chasing.

Sometimes writing as a profession sucks! The endless waiting. The heart-dropping parcel on your doorstep. The no, thank yous -- great story, but we've recently accepted one just like it. Or the no, thank yous -- I just didn't fall in love with your story. How could they not, with a hero like yours?

But you plug away at it because you have to.

You plug away at it because you're driven.

You plug away at it because you've got no choice.

Sometimes it's the hardest profession in the world. You have a deadline, and no time. After all, you have a real job -- one that pays you money. You have to make work deadlines because they're your bread and butter. And you're not feeling inspired to write.

The gut-wrenching truth is that professional writers write whether they feel inspired or not. They sit on their chairs and sweat blood, trying to distill words from thin air. This is their alchemy. And they do it: that's the real magic of writing. They do it. Day after day after day.

Sometimes, lightning hits, frazzles the locks on their brains and unleashes their creativity. Not very often, but sometimes it does. Then they're in the zone. They take those days and they know that such days are gifts. The stories that come out of such writing are gifts.

Many newcomers to the craft are out searching for the great secret of how to write. Books tell them there are no secrets. Published writers tell them there are not secrets. No secrets, only words on the page, long hours of practise, practise, practise.

But there is one great secret. Shh, don't tell anyone, because I'm going to share it with you. The great secret is that professional writers look at the writing they've done and they can't tell whether they wrote it while in the zone or not. Those hardwon words are just as precious, just as polished, as those rarer ones that come as gifts.

It's something you need to remember when you're not feeling inspired. Something I need to remember too. Something we all do, because, really, lack of inspiration is no excuse not to write. You know it. I know it.

We just have to keep at it.

Deadlines are great. NaNoWriMo is great. Writing contracts are great.

This is your passion so take it seriously. Professionally. Back yourself in. And when those gifts arrive, celebrate them, for no doubt if you're plugging away daily, you've earnt those gifts, and they are rightfully yours.


ellen said...

But where is the zone? How do I find it?

Seriously, I think it's frightening how easy it is to transition from being in a good daily writing rhythm (as opposed to 'the zone', which as you state is even harder to find)to a state where picking up from where you left off is so hard that you despair of ever writing another word ever again . . .

Lisa66 said...

So true, Tracey. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be in 'the zone' again. But when it happens it's magic.

For the past six months I have tried to write every day. Sometimes it doesn't happen, but most days it does. It's amazing how easily the words come when you are 'in' the story daily.

Now that the novel's finished (and off to London on Monday - I promise!) my problem is starting again. I feel lost without the familiarity of the last novel - a bit like I've lost my best friend and now I have to make a new one!

Leah-Mae's Scribbles said...

I think you've hit the nail right on the head there, Tracey!

Writing should never be a chore, and I think its on those days when the words feel like lead in your veins when the 'zone' strikes.

Just when you think you're giving up, Y'know?
All you need is to taste that inspiration again and your off!
The thrill of the chase!

Thats quite an insight you've got there.

Tracey said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Ellen, I know what you mean. It is easy to lose it. But, OTOH, it's just as easy to find it back again through establishing a regular writing practice. Trouble is that life sometimes gets in the way of that, but we should try our hardest to make sure it doesn't!

Lisa, yes, there's so much to say about being immersed in it: thinking about your characters all the time! I love it. And I get what you're saying about feeling lost: that's the advantage of writing fantasy -- you get to stay with your characters for three whole books, and fat books at that! I'll be devastated when I have to leave mine behind, but already have others on the boil, simmering away.

Leah-Mae, yes, the thrill of the chase. And the more you chase the fitter you are -- it's win-win all around. You're making a pretty powerful point for never giving up!

Leah-Mae's Scribbles said...

Thank you.