To reach your writing zone requires time.
Cutting out distractions and learning to focus on the world of your novel may not be as easy as it sounds. Sometimes we must focus on the real world just to survive. The more we focus on other problems, the more difficult it becomes to focus on our internal world and to reach the writing zone. If you missed step 1, find it here!
Step 2: Move into your fictive world slowly.
So you may need to move into your world over a period of two or three hours.
My wife will often say, “Hey, you’ve got fifteen minutes, why don’t you go start that new novel we’ve been talking about?” She just doesn’t understand my process. I for one can’t just leap into a novel for fifteen minutes. Sure, I can try to write a page, but it is always weak. Instead, my dream-world comes alive the more that I focus on it, the longer I concentrate.
The truth is, you can’t make a living “just” writing novels, but you can make a living if you write them well. Trying to jump into a novel for a short time, writing cold, and then forging ahead without revision is a recipe for writing garbage.
In the same way, basketball players and musicians need to warm up, often for hours, to prepare for a big game.
So I have to move into my fictive world slowly, and I think that this is where my disconnect often is. I feel enough pressure to “get that next novel turned in” so that I try to forge ahead with my writing. Feeling under the gun, I find myself trying to write from outside the zone. That doesn’t work for me. I often will write half a novel and throw it away—four or five times—before I feel that I get it right.
So the question is, How can I get into the zone fast enough so that I save time and don’t have to do those rewrites? How can I keep from making false starts?
The answer is easy: Exercise. Just as a kung fu master will go through routines before a match, or a fighter pilot will run through his flight list, as a writer you need to take some time to “warm up.”
You can reduce the stress that you feel when you’re writing if you simply tell yourself, “I’m going to do some writing exercises.” So the basic idea is to work into your writing zone by exercising for an hour or more before you begin to compose. Usually, after just a few minutes, your mind will turn back toward your real work.
I spoke last time about Chick Corea’s concert. Remember that Chick Corea was glazed in sweat before he even began his performance. He’d been practicing for hours. Similarly, when I used to run I often found that my real energy didn’t seem to kick in until I had jogged about three miles. When I hit my second wind, running became joyous and almost effortless.
In that state, I could focus totally on my breathing and my stride, and work on maximizing my performance. Very often I would feel like I could run forever, and would only stop after ten or fifteen miles—and I would stop then only because I knew how badly I would be hurting the next day.
Getting into the zone often requires you to make repeated attempts to focus deeper and deeper upon your work. Indeed, now that I think about it, I can recall a couple of occasions when I found myself carried away in my work at a time when I already felt physically and emotionally exhausted.
For this reason, I suggest that to get deeply into your writing zone, give yourself large blocks of time—full days, if possible. I for one find it annoying to try to write for less than three hours in a block.
I sometimes go on writing retreats, and I find that the more days I spend focused on a project, the faster it comes. In other words, on the first day of a retreat, I might write eight or ten pages. On the second day, it moves to fourteen. On the third, I hit twenty. By day fifteen of a retreat, I may write thirty pages in a day.
So try to get into a position where you can focus on writing every day. If you feel inspired to write, use that inspiration as fuel to help form a writing habit.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
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