Jaye Wells

Craft Thursday: More Thoughts on The Zone

I’ve been thinking a lot about the post on The Zone last week. I’ve decided there’s more I need to say on the topic, so the next couple of Craft Thursday posts will address this very important topic.

Why is it so important? Because The Zone, aka The Flow, is so critical to creativity. Authors always talk about those moments when they fell liek they are merely a conduit for story. You lose track of time and your fingers fly across the keyboard faster than you could possibly think. It’s like taking dictation for the gods or dancing or meditation.

“When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” –Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one the world’s formost experts on the concept of Flow.

Here’s a TED Talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

You back? Okay, now that we understand how important it is, let’s discuss how Flow and Zone are also not that important.

WHAT?!? But, Jaye, you just made me watch an 18 minute video on the importance of Flow and how it can give our lives meaning and happiness.

Shh, grasshopper, shh. Yes, The Zone is awesome. I have an almost religious reverence for it and in a lot of ways it’s one of the big reasons writing is a need and a want in my life. The Zone makes you feel like Siddhartha on the mountain at one with the infinite.

However …

There will be a lot of days, A LOT, when you can not get into the Flow. Days when you’re restless and distracted. Days when you had a fight with your wife or your kids are having problems or you’re PMSing and there’s no chocolate in the $%#^#& house.Or maybe you’ve been working on this book for four months straight and it’s still not coming together and you’re just not sure you have the endurance to keep going. You keep trying to get into the Flow, but really you’re barely treading water.

Pop Quiz!

What do you do if you just can’t get into The Zone?
A. Take a break. You deserve it. Several weeks should do it.
B. Stop writing altogether. You’re a fraud anyway.
C. Keep calm and write on.

You don’t really need me to tell you, do you? If you do, send me $10 and I’ll scream WRITE, DAMN YOU, WRITE! into your voicemail.

The truth is most writers don’t spend the majority of their writing time in The Zone. Perhaps that’s why it’s so special. If it was easy to get there, we wouldn’t appreciate it. So, yeah, it’s not easy –actually it’s probably also not that advisable since it warps your relationship with the real world–to get and stay in the Zone. Regardless, books get written.

They get written because if you’re an author you’re not just an artist, you’re a craftsperson. You’re a word worker, hammering out a story. Those blinding moments of inspiration and that chorus of angels that croons while you’re Flowing are fabulous. But they appear too inconsistently to get the work done.

The work gets done by making a habit of putting your ass in the chair and laying words on the page. I’m not one of those writers who say you’re required to write every day. But you should probably have a reliable habit of some sort. Some people have weekly word goals, some have somewhat regular bouts of word bingeing. Either way, the work has to get done. This obviously gets more important once you get published and have a contractual obligation to finish the book. But even before that, when you’re on the road to Oz, you still have to complete projects.

Completing projects makes you a more experienced writer. And guess what? Being a more experienced writer makes it easier to achieve Flow. Flexing your creative muscles through practice creates a sort of creative muscle memory. Deliberate practice means you’re available and prepared when those flashes of inspiration decide to make an appearance. Plus, you also learn what works best to get you into the Flow. Since I’ve written several books now, it’s easier for me to shut off the internal editor and let my fingers improvise like a Jazz musician. I trust myself more to get the work done because I’ve done it before.

Anyway, the big point is, respect the Flow, but more than that, respect that writing is work.

Until next week, happy writing!

4 Thoughts on “Craft Thursday: More Thoughts on The Zone

  1. I remember years ago talking to a friend of mine who is a wonderful writer and telling him that I had this story that had just sort of fallen out of my head fully formed into my computer and how cool that was. He said, “Yeah it’s really fun when that happens but the real work is when it doesn’t happen, you have to keep writing, that’s the heavy lifting part.” Also…where should I send that $10.00? LOL…when I was in college and totally frozen trying to draft my very first lighting plot one of my housemates, a senior lighting design student, brought a plastic Mr.T piggy bank into my room with a sign on it that said, “DRAFT, DAMNIT”. It helped…I got the drafting done.

  2. I’m like you about Flow, in that I think of it as my religion. I’m giddy today because somehow I fell into it most of the day. I DO NOT KNOW HOW and I’d give my left nut to figure that out. Usually I write for 2 minutes and spend the next 3 figuring out ways to get out of the chair. A house next door to my writing cafe burned down last week, and as the smoke filled the cafe, I thought, “Maybe the cafe is on fire! Maybe we’ll have to evacuate! Yay!”

    I find Flow much more often while doing revisions, which I love. The only (and I mean only) way I’m getting there in a first draft is by using Write or Die.

  3. also, thanks for TED link. I’ve read FLOW but never heard him speak.

  4. This is an excellent kick in the ass. I’ve wasted WAY too much time waiting for to get swept into the flow. Writing takes discipline, and fortitude.

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