Monday, May 8, 2017

Getting in The Zone

I’m writing about tricks I use to get myself into the space where everything flows onto the page: the zone.        Terry Shames

My best trick for getting into a writing zone, isn’t a trick at all, it’s a discipline. If I roll out of bed, grab a cup of tea and head straight for the computer somewhere around six AM, words pour onto the page. I did that for my first and second books in the Samuel Craddock series, and my drafts were written in a matter of weeks. I truly felt as if I were in a zone.

The only trouble is that, like I said, it’s a discipline. I have to make myself do it. It rarely happens. Instead, I get up and read the newspaper (which these days means going into a frenzied rage and writing letters to the editors or posting on Facebook), solve the Sudoku and the Ken-ken, work out for an hour, eat breakfast and finally wander to the computer about 10 AM.

So I usually go to my fallback trick. And this seems more like a real trick because I don’t know how it happens. It involves imagining myself looking over my protagonist’s shoulder and seeing what he sees. I float through the town of Jarrett Creek greeting people, seeing the sights and smells truly as if I were looking through Samuel’s eyes. I know where everyone lives, where they work, where they go for a meal, what the downtown looks like, who people are friends with. I know where the funeral home is and where the churches are. I feel the humidity and heat, and see the lush vegetation in the summer. In winter, I feel the harsh cold and see the bleak landscape. The trick usually works pretty well.

However, here’s an arsenal of other tricks that I trot out if the going gets rough. In no particular order:

1)   Just write. Keep putting words onto the page and hope the “zone” shows up.
2)   Read a few lines of something I love. It can be poetry, prose, or whatever strikes me at the moment. The “trick” is not to get immersed in whatever I’m reading so far that I lose my own sense of what I’m after.
3)   Drag out one of several writing books that I have and read something at random. Stein on Writing is always a good bet, or James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers. For example, I opened the latter book at random just now and read: “Surprise me now! Whenever the story even holds the hint of dragging, I create a surprise.
4)   Think about some of my favorite hints: For example, a line I heard from Simon Wood: Make every character want something on every page, even if it’s only a cup of coffee. I don’t know if that was original with him, but when I hear his voice say it in my head, it spurs me on.
5)   Go back and outline the last couple of chapters. I don’t mean a rigid outline; I mean sketch out what the chapters have been about. Often that gets me back in the zone. Or, as I prefer to think of it, back in the saddle.
6)   Drag out some pastels and play with the colors on paper. That usually leads to painting, though, and may absorb the rest of the day, so I rarely do this.

If all else fails, I realize I may not be ready to get into the zone at the moment. Sometimes you need a break. So I’ll go for a walk and remind myself to really look at details. Look at the bark of a tree, the particular way a rose is formed, a gate I never noticed, or the sound of a particular bird. It’s a mini-vacation that refreshes my imagination and clears out the deadwood so I can prepare to o back into that elusive zone.


Unknown said...

Helpful list - thanks! I'm the same, going straight to writing in the a.m. is best before news etc intrudes. In fact I will do that right now!

Unknown said...

I'm in editing now, and that's a whole different kettle of fish.