In the Zone

on January 26, 2006

I’m a binge writer. I can write a lot of pages really fast, or nothing. With The Kill, for example, I wrote the first 140 pages in 2 weeks . . . then nothing for months. True, I had other things to do like revisions on The Hunt, but the beginning just rolled out, and then I was stuck in the coroner’s office, not knowing if my heroine should watch the autopsy or not. Seriously.

You’d think I could just skip that part, right? That I could just write the scene that comes next and get back to it. Not! It was an important turning point and whether she observed the autopsy or not would mean different things to both her and the hero.

Ultimately, I had to re-read the 140 pages I’d written and get back into the story before the solution was SOOOOO obvious you’d think I was plain stupid not to see it before. My heroine was telling me all along exactly what she would do, but I wasn’t listening. I was trying to force her to do what I THOUGHT she should do, not what she would do in “real” life.

When I’m in the zone, the characters take over. I merely dictate what happens.

For example, when I worked on the revisions for The Hunt, I made far more changes than my editor asked for. I started working on the book logically–I read the revision letter a dozen times, a made notes, I had the manuscript with her comments in the margins right there in front of me. I worked on the book slowly, reviewing the comments, thinking about the scene, reworking it, layering in, whatever.

Then they–the characters–took over.

About a third of the way through the book I wasn’t even looking at my editor’s notes anymore. I knew what the problems were, I’d absorbed them for lack of a better word. The story just rolled out–nearly 300 pages, most of them brand-spanking-new–in less than three weeks. I was in the zone. It was fabulous, the ultimate high.

I can feel the zone circling around me again. I’m itching to get back to my next book. I’ve written about forty pages, but I wasn’t happy with all of it. I started re-reading it, and then I talked to myself last night while driving to the mall to shop. I talked out a lot of the little problems I’d had with the first chapter (thank God it was dark and no one could see me talking to myself!) and now I can move forward. The muse is calling, and I can’t wait to lose myself in the story.

If you’re a writer, do you ever find yourself in the zone? How does it feel? Is what you write unusually good or not?

If you’re not a writer, do you ever engage in any activities–cooking, video games, exercize–where you lose track of time because you are so absorbed in the task at hand? You don’t know where the time goes?