Last Sunday, James Scott Bell gave us a great look back at his High School basketball conquests, described how it felt to be in “the zone”, related his successes to writing, and gave some excellent tips on how to develop mental muscle memory to make it easier to enter the zone on a constant basis.
Today, I wanted to expand on the zone concept. A beginning writer once asked me: “I’ve heard authors 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, as Jim mentioned, 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 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, again as Jim calls “the boys in the basement”.
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 or chatting on a hands-free cell phone and suddenly realize I can’t remember the past 10 miles.
I’ve also never been athletic, but judging from Jim’s story, 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, in addition to Jim’s tips, what are some additional methods 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 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 in the basement and let my story flow.
OK, Zoner’s. What does it feel like for you to be in “the zone”? Any tips on how you make it happen?