Zoning in TKZ

By Joe Moore

I’ll be flying most of the day and may not get to respond to your comments. In case I don’t, here’s wishing all my TKZ blogmates and friends a wonder Thanksgiving Holiday.


Someone once asked: “I’ve heard writers talk of being ‘in the zone’ regarding their writing, which I take to mean being in an altered state of extreme creativity. But how, without drugs or other stimulus, do you get into that state?”

In fact, we hear the term in the zone used often, not only with writers, but athletes, artists, and just about any activity that requires skill, creativity and deep concentration.

So what is “the zone” and how do we enter it? Why is it so hard to remain there for extended periods of time?

Being in the zone can last for a few minutes, a couple of hours or a whole day. For those that never seem to enter the zone, it might be because they try too hard to do so. Sort of like when we stop trying to solve a problem, the solution suddenly comes to us through our subconscious.

Let’s try to define what being in the zone means, especially when it relates to writing. For me, it’s a mental state where time seems to disappear and my productivity greatly exceeds normal output. It might start after I’ve finished lunch and sat down at my PC to work on a new chapter. Without any feeling of the passage of time, I suddenly realize a couple of hours have gone by and I’ve produced 1000 words or more. I don’t remember the passage of time or anything that deals with my surroundings. I only remember “living” or becoming immersed in the story’s moment, having the words flow from a deeper source, and “awakening” from the writing zone as if only a few moments have passed.

I’ve never been hypnotized, but I can assume that being in the zone is somewhat like self-hypnosis. My body remains in the here-and-now, but my creative senses somehow find a hidden room inside my mind, a place normally under lock and key. And I’m able to enter it for a short time to let what’s there emerge into the light of day.

It can also feel like driving down the Interstate on a long trip deep in thought and suddenly realize I can’t remember the past ten miles.

I’ve never been athletic, but I bet it’s a similar scenario: a golfer is able to tune out the surrounding crowd of tournament spectators, the dozens of network cameras, the worldwide audience, the cheers from the distant gallery as his opponents make a great putt, and he’s able to enter a place where only his game stretches out before him. The rest slips by in a blur. Personal mind control.

So what is a good method for getting into the zone? Some writers use the “running start” technique by reading the previous day’s work or chapter. It gets them back into the story and hopefully the new words start to flow.

Others listen to music. This is something I often do. Nothing with lyrics, though. I listen to movie scores or piano and guitar solos. I find that it can help set a mood or become background “white noise” that blocks out other audible distractions. That’s because, for me, the biggest obstacle to zoning is distractions. It’s important to reduce interruptions and distractions by creating an environment where they are minimized. This means shutting my office door, closing the drapes on the windows, unplugging the phone, disconnecting Internet access, and most of all, choosing a time to write when those things can be fully managed. Doing away with distractions is no guarantee that I will enter the zone at will, but it does give me a fighting chance to at least knock on the door to one of those dark, hidden rooms upstairs and let my story flow out.

How about you Zoners? What’s it like for you to write in the zone? And do you have a method to slip easily into the zone?


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13 thoughts on “Zoning in TKZ

  1. I like working with music that’s “ingrained” – that I grew up with, that I played so many times the grooves on the vinyl are deep. These are songs that words are a part of the music and hence not a distraction – Paul Simon, Dan Fogelberg, John Denver, Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett, the Grateful Dead (appropriate for the KILL Zone, I s:pose), – I could go on and on – and REALLY give away my age but…
    I’ve noticed, too, that when I come out of the zone, my hands and feet are cold ~ as if the blood was redirected to where it’s needed most….
    Enny whey~ Happy Thanksging and safe travels to all y’all.

  2. For me, writing in “the zone” involves having a clear direction for the day’s writing through my rolling outline (the topic James Scott Bell posted this past Sunday). Plus, as you implied, it helps to write something every day on your project, to stick with the story & not let it get cold.

    Nice post, Joe. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving & safe travels.

  3. I’m a sit-down-and-write-to-a-quota guy, so I find that I don’t put myself in the zone; the zone shows up and takes me over. I don’t know when or how it happens. When it does, though, I ride that train to the end.

    Sometimes I can tweak it if I plan for something surprising to happen in the scene I’m about to write. I brainstorm until I find that thing, then when I write I’m excited about it and anxious to get there. Sometimes that results in the zone.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Joe, and to our TKZ community.

  4. Thanks for this. The zone remains one of the great mysteries of the artistic life. But so is the “un-zone,” that Monday morning place where I can waste an hour shuffling around the words of a single sentence. It sure feels like a waste, though the two states must be connected.

  5. The zone rarely comes easily but when it does it’s amazing how time just flies and all there is the story, your author voice and the page. It’s just impossible to capture or bottle (sadly) and, for me at least, it doesn’t arrive until I’ve been sitting for a while in the ‘un-zone’ just getting down what I can on paper! Happy Thanksgiving everyone and travel safe!

  6. I find, for me, it happens at night, either waking from a deep sleep or just drifting off, and my imagination gets “fired” and suddenly I’m scribbling down page after page of story material. Like you said, it seems only minutes go by, but I’m not surprised when I glance at the clock and three hours actually have disappeared.

  7. My zone is a very mobile creature, when it happens it happens and I’d better have a pen and paper or tablet, or PC, or at least a smart because the story is coming out like the next morning after a huge meal that ended with good fresh home made beer.

    • That was Leonard, not me…and I think he meant smart-phone, because he obviously does not have much ‘smart’ to be hijacking my computer like that.

  8. Please excuse the previous post….I did not realize my cousin Leonard had popped in or I would’ve locked my computer.

    As for my own writing zone, I find that I am pretty much in it whenever I am not doing something else, or trying to stop Fillii, Gnillii, et al from making a disaster of my house.

  9. Nice post, Joe. Hope everyone here has a great Thanksgiving. I have a crazy busy life of interruptions. I write in moments most of the time, but found that I’ve become very good at short periods of intense focus. I’ll call it the mini zone.

  10. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has studied this extensively. He calls it “flow.” Wikipedia describes it as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” Unfortunately, it happens rarely to me. But when it does it is most awesome.

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