Oh, The Coveted Zone.
It’s that mental space between awake and asleep
where the story takes place in your mind and heart.
(When people ask, how did you come up with that story?
It came from The Zone.)
That place where nothing else exists
but you, inside the story.
Walking through the story (in your brain) as the story emerges.
That nothing-wasted writing time
where everything flows
because you’re simply following your characters around
and writing down what you see, feel, hear, smell, and experience.
(You writers know what I’m talking about.)
Years ago, at the last Book Expo America (BEA) that was held in Chicago,
I heard a prolific author speak.
(I wish I could remember his name, but can’t. Phooey. Anyway…)
He was an older man with a white beard
with words that came out measured
(not because he was old but because he was wise).
He gave me some of the most powerful writing advice
that I’ve clung to since.
It was about
“Get yourself in a mental place where you
step through the screen and live the story,
as you write.”
Frankly, I was confused.
Mentally meandering into this other-worldly woo-woo place
sounded like crazy talk by a bunch of crazy people.
(Okay. We writers are a bit wacked sometimes. But…)
I didn’t know The Zone.
(I felt like an outsider.)
So after the conference,
I took this man’s words to heart
and went on a quest to find The Zone.
It was all about letting the brain go to a new brain-wave place.
(The place of imagination and dreams.)
Okay, I realize I’m repeating myself here in circular defense mode,
because this could sound weird…but trust me, it’s not.
The Zone exists.
Slowly, like a door opening, I understood how to access The Zone.
It was a bit like the scene in The Wizard of Oz
where Dorothy opens the door to Technicolor.
Peeking in, I started to walk through.
And pretty soon, I was able to open the door regularly.
Now, before you think I’ve really lost it,
think about the place between awake and asleep.
(You know how it feels, right?)
Remember how it feels when you’re waking up,
but you don’t really want to,
and the brain is still in the dream
but you’re aware of everything else around you, too
(fuzzy, but aware).
That’s The Zone.
Writers access it.
All the time.
I’d love to see a study with EEGs or MRIs (or any other medical letters)
hooked up to a writer’s brain when they’re writing story.
(I bet it would show the same waves as the asleep and awake place.)
My kids know when I’m in The Zone.
They’ve commented (with grins) about the look on my face.
(“Your eyes don’t blink and your mouth is slightly open.”)
They also know
that they can ask me anything when I’m in the zone and I’ll say yes.
(Which has gotten me in trouble more than a few times.
“I really said you can do that? Huh. And Oops.”)
At the coffee shop, my friends know when I’m in The Zone.
Last week, a friend I haven’t seen for years came in.
She came up to me and touched my shoulder to get my attention
(which took me out of The Zone in a whoosh).
“You looked so intense, so into whatever you’re doing,
I almost didn’t interrupt, to say hi.”
(If you see me, please say hi.)
So. How to get to The Zone.
Certain things take you into The Zone faster.
(For me, it’s coffee in hand, music, and claiming a small table in a coffee shop.)
Certain things keep you in The Zone.
(For me, it’s listening to what I call driving music… mostly soundtracks.)
Whatever takes you there and keeps you there, do it.
Now, if anyone had told me about The Zone 20 years ago,
I wouldn’t have believed them.
I would have nodded and politely slipped away
(making a mental note to avoid that person because they were simply w.e.i.r.d.)
But The Zone is there.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of The Zone,
I ask you to think about it.
(It might be what you’re looking for,
to access your story-writing place.)
And if you know The Zone,
I encourage you to find out what inspires getting there
and to practice it, to get there faster.
(Because, hey, productivity counts.)