Most authors will know what I mean when I say ‘I’m in the zone’. It’s not a physical place or even some website out there in cyberspace- it’s a state of mind.
Writing is time consuming, frustrating and bloody hard work most of the time. It can also destroy your self confidence, as you sit there trying your best and only trite comes out. You can write 2000 words and then maybe only one hundred of those words are fairly good. In fact if that happens, you’re lucky. I have often deleted a whole chapter after re reading what I wrote the day before and then discovered that it was all complete drivel. You can be halfway through a novel and read back, only to discover that the whole idea is without substance or any worth at all. It can make you feel truly miserable.
Then why do we do it? Because of ‘the zone’. When you do get there, it’s like hitting cruising speed, or the sweet spot of the tennis racket and the story unfolds right in front of you. You are, at that moment freewheeling and a true winner and it’s a wonderful feeling.
For me, when I hit the zone, it’s as if my computer screen becomes a magic mirror that I step through and I’m in the world of my story and inside the skin of my character- in fact I am the character and I know exactly how he or she feels at that moment. It happens without warning and you don’t realise it until you have written for a while and then you go- ‘hey, I’m in the zone’.
It happened to me this morning. I am, at the moment writing the sequel to my historical novel, A Woman’s Place and the story takes place in New York in the 1930’s. I was having a hard time getting myself in the frame of mind of the heroine, Sonja, and I have been struggling with a certain chapter all week, getting quite sick of it. But I made myself read through the earlier chapters and then I started writing the current one. I thought, as this is the first draft, I’d just move the story forward, filling in the emotions and improving dialogue later, during draft 2. So I plodded along, describing a rather dreary November day when… Wheee! I was there! Suddenly, Sonja spoke to me and I could feel her pulling her cardigan tighter around her thin body, braving the cold weather. Then I was her, thinking her thoughts, feeling her emotions and smelling the air in her apartment (she had burnt the toast) on the Upper East Side of New York in 1937. I even made her change her shoes for her walk in Central Park, as my feet suddenly felt cold.
My ‘zone moment’ lasted for over an hour and I wrote like a mad woman, completing nearly 2000 words. Great words. Absolutely perfect words for that particular chapter. Then I had to stop for mundane things like breakfast, a shower and getting dressed. But the afterglow lasted nearly all day. It’s a kind of high that hits you at random. If you could bottle it and sell it, you’d make millions.
When will I get back into the zone? I have no idea. Could happen very soon or in a week’s time or a month. But I do know the only way back there, is to keep writing.
No, I’m not insane. I’m a writer.