You know the feeling when you’re half-asleep, and you’re dreaming, and you’re just awake enough to know that if you move, the dream will be gone?
The Zone is like that.
I love when I get into the Zone — where it’s just me and the page in front of me, where I am so into my work I can sit and concentrate for hours without getting distracted. It’s when creativity flows the fastest and heaviest, when some of my most brilliant lines spout forth from my fingertips. But it can be a fragile state.
For me, the Zone begins in quiet times, maybe if I’m a little tired, preferably if no one is around. In the Zone I can blissfully succumb to my own writerly fancies, forgetting all other chores and obligations. You other writers out there will know exactly what I’m talking about — when real life fades and your writing becomes your reality, when you live inside your story.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows or is appreciative of the Zone. Family members can be quite inconsiderate of the Zone, barging in to talk or demand that you participate in their lives. The phone, especially, is one of the Zone’s worst enemies, with its noisy, startling din.
And then there are those twilight moments, where you’re in the Zone but not working, and there is one predator to that state that will kill the Zone if it gets the chance. It’s a beautiful, enticing place full of imaginary closets and weddings and food and fitness. It makes you happy while you’re there, but when you finally break free you realize that, really, you have been pinned there (yes, pinned) by all the pretty things, held captive against your will.
(Darn you, wretched creation.)
The Zone can also come at the most inconvenient times, such as when your family is getting ready to sit down to dinner or when you are away from a typing device and are reduced to scribbling frantically on whatever paper product is available at the time. Or sometimes, the Zone sneaks up on you, and you just have that nagging feeling that were you at your computer, or if you held the pencil in your hand, the words would spew forth like fireworks, but maybe you’re at work or in a meeting and you will never know what brilliance you might have written because that particular Zone will pass in the next moment and never come again. And then you’re left with a feeling of loss that is as vague as it is piercing.
And the Zone is fickle. Sometimes you can participate in conversations while in the Zone, giddy enough with the adrenaline rush to be able to talk while still typing at the speed of light. Sometimes the high is so good you have to get up and pace around, planning out loud excitedly and doing lots of waving around of your hands. Other times the Zone is so intense you are deaf to the world, still as a rock to all observers but living a fantastic dream inside, and the only interaction you give is a hand held up — “don’t” — when others try to talk to you. And sometimes the Zone is a fragile thread, and the frantic typing pace comes from fear that soon the Zone will be gone, and you must get as much work done as possible while it is still here.
Occasionally, the Zone ins’t even a time of frantic typing. Sometimes it’s just a moment of profound clarity deep in your brain where everything in your story falls into place and you know exactly what you are doing.
Those Zones don’t come very often.
But the one thing that unites all Zones is that every Zone that is really blissful comes during intentional work, by consciously trying to immerse yourself in your story. By reading over it to feel as if you are really there, by experiencing what the reader will experience.
And that, really, is how all your hard work is truly paid off — not by getting published and finally seeing your book on the shelf, although those are beautiful moments in life and ones every author aspires to see — but by working hard, so hard you lose yourself in your story and slip quickly and quietly into the Zone while the rest of the world whirls around you.