Ahhh ‘the zone’. That mystical plane of existence in which the words flow and inspiration is channeled directly into our brains and we become mere vessels for unbounded creativity and everything is EASY.
I mean, has anyone actually ever BEEN there? Is it on a map, somewhere? Do you need a secret password?
<whispers> Is it even real?
Well, no. And at the same time, yes?
No, there is no such thing as a muse who randomly descends to imbue you with magical productivity.
But yes, you CAN orchestrate the right kind of set-up to minimise procrastination and help you stay motivated.
No, there won’t ever be a perfect time, place, or set-up to write (so stop waiting around for it).
But yes, you can begin to recognise the times and situations in which you write most efficiently, and create a ‘ready anytime’ writing attitude.
And that’s a massive part of how ‘the zone’ works. Getting focused, staying focused, and recognising your strengths, weaknesses and limits. Prioritising your creativity and making the best use of your writing time, instead of sitting on your arse desperately hoping for inspiration to strike. Learning the wheres, the whens, the hows, the whos, the whys, and the whats of YOUR writing preferences (the WWHWWWs for short). Figuring out how to make all these things happen as much as possible. Like so:
Where do you write best? At home? On the train? In your bed? In the rain? Find your perfect place and set up an imaginary barbed wire fence around it. Carve out a special corner of your own that is uncluttered by non-writing things. Or experiment with a bunch of different locations and environments to see how they affect your writing. A busy cafe. A silent library. On the top of a hill with a beautiful view. Scrawling on an old receipt in your car while you wait for the kids to get out of school. After a while, you may find that it really doesn’t matter where you are, so long as you’re getting on with your writing.
When do you write best? Early in the morning? Late in the evening? In the middle of the night just after you’ve been for a pee? At the weekend? During a full moon? And if not now, when? If there’s a specific time of the day/week/month/year you find it easier to write, do everything in your power to protect that time and put it towards your writing. But also be aware that often that ‘perfect’ time doesn’t actually exist. Sooner or later you’ve just got to make do with the time you have. If you figure out the rest of your WWHWWWs then ANY time can be turned into productive writing time.
How do you write best? In short sprints, Pomodoro style? Or maybe you need a good half an hour of re-reading your previous work to get in the mood. Do you need ABSOLUTE quiet? Or maybe a little mood music might help. Do you have to sit at a desk? Or maybe you write better in bed with your laptop propped on your knees. Perhaps you get your best ideas while walking the dog, or by talking out loud to yourself, or when you’re doing the washing up. Find a way to keep track of those off-the-cuff ideas – keep a notebook handy wherever you go, use a dictation app or voice recorder – and make note of what gets your creative juices flowing (ew). Oh, and don’t underestimate the importance of good posture. As Margaret Atwood says: “Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.”
Who helps you write best? Who inspires you? Who do you turn to when the writing angst takes hold? Who shares your celebrations and commiserates with you when you get a rejection? Find a bunch of writer buddies and use them as a sounding board, as writing buddies, as beta readers. Connect with fellow WHQers on our community forums and make use of your peers – because they’re going through exactly the same shit as you are. Writing can be lonely, and isolating, and without feedback your perception of your progress can get skewed really easily. So don’t be an island, dude. Find your tribe.
Why do you love writing? Why are you writing this particular story? If you’ve lost some of your mojo, figure out how to get excited about your writing again. And on a story-level, keep asking WHY? Why is your protagonist doing the things they do? Why should they carry on when all seems bleak? Why should this plot point occur at this exact moment? Make a list of questions to throw at your characters and your story, and keep reminding yourself why you’re doing all this. Because you’re a writer. Because it’s what you DO. Right?
What do you need to get shit done? Your favourite notebook? Your lucky pen? I mean, maybe? But more important than that is having A PLAN. Make a writing to do list with all the plot holes that need filling, all the ideas that need turning into stories, all the edits, all the drafts, all the things. Outline that novel. Plot that short story. Draft that poem. Make a bullet list of what you’re gonna write today. Then get the frack on with it.
And just like that… we achieve maximum zonage.
Oh my god guys.
The zone was inside us all along.
We just had to stop fucking about and start writing.