Okay, so among creative types there is something called “the zone”. Not just creatives, even athletes and others know about this mystical place. But the question now is really just this: does the zone really exist? Or is it some magical place that has been made up in order to make people try harder to focus?
The answer is yes, it does exist. I think it’s a bit different for everyone, but it is definitely a real thing for me. And it’s not an easy place for me to get to. I need music, but only music I already know so well that I can drown it out. Silence works as well, but only occasionally. Something to drink, usually tea, sometimes a can of diet soda. A comfy place to sit, but not so comfy that it makes me sleepy. You know, those things.
When all conditions are right, it comes naturally. I start writing, and it could be anything. A blog post, a short story, a scene or chapter for my novel – as long as it’s something I’m enjoying. And when it happens is almost hard to pinpoint. I am writing and then realize I’m in my zone already, like the transition from sitting in my chair with my laptop on my knees to this magic place doesn’t exist, almost as though I’ve always been there. It’s a comfortable place, a productive place, where I can somehow write insanely high word counts in short periods of time (for me, 1,000 words in 15 minutes is insanely high – I can rarely pull off those numbers due to the inevitable distractions in my house). It’s somewhere I love to be, and it’s a very fragile balance that keeps me there. The slightest distraction can pull me away from that place in a fraction of a second, and it could be nearly impossible to get back there for days, if not weeks.
But what’s it really like to be in the zone? To be in that perfect state of mind where everything is going smoothly and nothing can go wrong? It’s exactly that. It feels like you are on top of the world, like nothing else exists aside from that thing you are working on in that moment. Nothing else matters. Words flow so fast you can barely keep up, and you are so engrossed in your own story that you have no choice but to go back and read what you’ve written once you’re done. And in almost every case, at least for myself, I am surprised at what I’ve written. The writing is better when I’m in the zone, it needs less editing. I’m more descriptive naturally. It’s like I’m transported directly into the world I’m building for my characters, I’ve become the character I’m writing, I’m going through those things with him in a more intimate way than just reading it.
There are times I catch myself typing with my eyes closed because I am so engrossed in what I’m picturing in my head that I don’t want the paper or bright computer screen disrupting the scene playing out in any way. I can feel the pain of my characters so clearly that it feels like it will physically affect me. I can feel their emotions coursing through me. I become those characters in ways that words can only begin to describe. The person is me, and I am him. His pain is mine, his struggle is mine. While in the zone, I will probably even answer to that character’s name if someone tried, just because I am so heavily involved at that time that it’s almost hard to differentiate between him and myself.
The zone is sacred because of this. It’s the place I can go, that I can strive to be in, when I write my novels. This is not always the case when I write, and is actually fairly rare thanks to the nonstop interruptions in my house, but it’s the place I like to be when I’m writing particularly intense scenes. I will refuse to write those harder chapters until I can guarantee myself a couple of hours to be completely alone with my protagonist and his troubles, just so I can become one with him and properly convey what’s going on in his head. I realize that may sound counterproductive in ways, but it works for me. If I can’t properly convey his emotions the first time, when I am just spilling words onto paper or into file, it’s harder to go back and edit it so that I can make people understand what he’s going through. I can force a lot of writing if I need to get words done, but there are certain scenes I’ve waiting weeks to write simply because I knew I could never do it properly without becoming him.
I can’t know what he’s going through, emotionally or physically, if I can’t be bothered to be alone with him for a while to listen to him. Julian in particular has become so much a part of me in the years that I’ve been writing his story that I have answered to that name when my best friend has said it, simply out of habit in a way, just from being so close to him for so long. His story has become mine, and it begs to be written when I walk away from it for a few weeks. But he has also become his own person in the times that we’ve visited in the mystical realm that is the zone. He constantly surprises me, and he always has more secrets to share.
Maybe that’s what the zone is. That place of understand, of mutual ground, where you and your characters can meet up and chat. A place to get to know eachother better, to be alone and to be there with your characters when they are alone to help them through the hard times you are throwing them into, whether they know it’s you doing it or not.
Really though, Julian has taught me more than any of the other characters I’ve written. He taught me what it was to sit in front of a computer and let my fingers do the work while he told me what happened rather than racking my brain trying to figure it out myself. All I have to do is get there, to our meeting place, and he will tell me everything I need to know. He will show me in such vivid details the things that he went through, so clear that the memories could be my own. He has become a very good friend over the years, and one I enjoy visiting with, no matter what the situation. When I see him, really see him – those piercing yellow eyes through the shaggy hair that falls over them, the smirk that plays at the corner of his full lips – I know I’m in the zone, and I will stay there until I no longer can.