Jaye Wells

Craft Thursday: Protect Your Zone

Last week I was in Chicago for the Romantic Times Convention. During a panel someone asked how we–Kelley Armstrong, Melissa Marr, Lucienne Diver, Nicole Peeler, Jennifer Estep and myself–handle writer’s block.
First of all, I’ve tackled Writer’s Block here before.
I repeated some of those points during the panel, but I also touched on something I have only recently begun to realize for myself.
If you want to avoid writer’s block, you’ve got to protect your Zone.
I capitalized the Z because the Zone is that important. It’s the sweet spot, the Shangri La, the secret cave where the muse resides. It’s the place where writing feels like meditation and time flits away like bird’s wings on a soft, warm breeze. Doubts fear the Zone. So does the inner editor. There’s no ego there. Basically, the Zone is the orgasm we’re always trying to reach each time we sit down at the keyboard.
Have I oversold it? I don’t believe so. If you do, maybe you have yet to find your Zone.
Regardless, I think a lot of what we call writer’s block is an inability to find the Zone. When we’re blocked, finding it can make us feel a lot like poor Odysseus trying to get home. It’s an epic quest fraught with clawed beasts and Cyclopses and murderous sirens.
Typically the biggest villains blocking our way are Ego and Editor. Ego wants us to believe we’re demigods worthy of worship. Editor tells us we’re shit on the shoe of whichever author we’ve elevated to the status of deity. Both are monsters.
scyllacharybdis-sept-9-2010
In keeping with the Odysseus metaphor, Editor is Scylla, the fanged beast who makes horrible sounds and consumes any poor soul who dares stray too close to her lair. Across the way, Charybdis is the sucking whirlpool of ego. In the center of these beasts is safe passage to the Zone.
Perfectionism is Scylla’s ambrosia. She finds your fear delicious. Charybdis, on the other hand, grows stronger every time you Google yourself, every time you check your ranking on Amazon.
If you’re ever going to break free of their pull, you’re going to have to learn to steer steady through the rough waters and ignore the waving tentacles in your peripheral vision. In short, you’ve got to protect yourself or you’ll never find your way back to Ithaca.
Look, let’s be honest. Writers have a reputation for being … peculiar, particular, persnickety. I never used to understand why my more experienced writers would issue dire warnings about resisting the urge to self-google (insert hairy palm joke here). I never understood why my successful author friends have these bizarre rituals and strange OCD behaviors about their writing. I never got why they didn’t enjoy the more public aspects of the job more.
Now I get it, and, ironically, it was Romantic Times that brought this lesson home for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast. I got to catch up with a lot of friends and meet lots of readers. Had some laughs and fun gossip sessions and fascinating discussions about books. But it also exhausted me. I thought maybe it’s just that I’m getting too old for sitting in the bar all night. But I’ve come to suspect something else is at play.
I didn’t protect my Zone.
First of all, I rarely get any writing done during cons. I write on the plane, sure. But once I’m in the hotel, I’m in full book pimp mode. I’m schmoozing and drinking and having deep discussions about how to save books. No bueno, my friends. As much as I enjoy the public side of my job, my first responsibility is to lay words on the page. It’s not just a job, though. It’s a NEED. Writing is as much of a requirement for my health as exercise and a good night’s sleep (lack of both of these can also screw with your Zone, btw). What’s worse, I always lose at least two additional days after cons as I catch up on sleep and let myself recharge.
Second of all, all that talk about The Industry is fucking demoralizing. It’s hard to get excited about writing when everyone’s talking about how books are going the way of the Dodo. When you’re consuming all this constant bad news and dire Chicken Littleism, it’s impossible to feel creative. Cons aren’t the worst perpetrator of this, though. Every time we read industry blogs or loiter on Twitter all day instead of writing, we’re opening ourselves to a constant deluge of shitty energy.
With more demands on our time to promote books, it’s becoming harder to insulate ourselves from the negativity that strips us of our internal compass, the one that leads us to our creative True Norths.
So how do we protect our Zones? I can only tell you the steps I’ve taken.
First, I’ve culled my Twitter and Facebook lists. Anyone who makes my teeth clench or my ass twitch or my trigger finger itchy is gone. Life’s too short. This is the social media equivalent of culling emotional vampires from your real life (something you should also do to protect your Zone).
Second, I’m taking time most days to get the hell away from my computer and go get some fresh air. Three or four times a week, I’ve been taking long walks. While I walk, I listen to audiobooks by people who inspire me–Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. While I walk, I take time to be thankful that I have a job that allows to go for long walks during the middle of the day. I try to feel grateful, which in turn makes me want to make the most of these opportunities wherever they may lead.
Third, I’ve stopped masturbating my Ego by googling or reading reviews. I’m not saying I’m a saint. What author isn’t a narcissist on some level? Sure, I slip up and read reviews, but I rarely don’t regret it.
Those are the big things. Your things might be different. You might get derailed by the things that help me get in the Zone the fastest. Regardless, it’s up to each of us to be honest about the habits (or people or addictions or rituals) we have that are working against us. It might take a while before what I’m saying makes sense. You might read this and think you’re the special kind of writer who will never hit a block so hard and large that you need a Sherpa to guide you over it. You might not believe in writer’s block at all. That’s fine. But protecting your Zone isn’t just about avoiding the dreaded block. It’s about protecting the magic, cupping your hands around that little, fragile spark. It’s too easy for that flame to flicker or burn out if you let your attention wander.
Protecting your Zone will not make you feel like a rock star. Taking long walks and ignoring the latest viral bullshit online won’t win you any readers. But you know what will?
Writing amazing books.
Protect your Zone from bad touches, friends.

3 Thoughts on “Craft Thursday: Protect Your Zone

  1. Andrew McQueen on April 19, 2012 at 9:56 am said:

    Real recognize real! 😀 Thanks for sharing, Mrs. Wells!

  2. Brilliant! This is hard on so many levels and yet I can actually FEEL it when I get to the Zone and I can feel it slip away when I do the stuff that F’s it up. Honestly one of my bigger problems is fear of the Zone because it’s so…freaky and cool and overwhelming and a little out of control but in a good way and yet still a scary way. I hate the truth of that but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s truth. I love these Craft Thursdays…again and again, thank you.

  3. JayeWells on April 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm said:

    Andrew, right on.

    Miss Bliss, don’t fear your awesomeness.

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