In the Zone
Guest Blog by Saralyn Richard
Anyone who has dedicated himself to writing a book knows that it takes large portions of inspiration, perseverance, and focus to bring a story to life. The act of writing a book requires many hours of concentrated effort. Sometimes an author is able to concentrate so fully on the setting, characters, and plot of a story that he is transported to “the zone.”
What is this mystical “zone” authors talk about? It can be likened to a runner’s high, a surgeon’s precise focus, an actor’s immersion in a role. It happens quite fluidly, without intent. It has happened to me several times when I become completely engrossed in the story I am telling, so engrossed that I could not tell you whether it is night or day outside, where I live, or even who I am. Instead, I am inside of a scene. I am not just one of the characters—I am all of the characters. I am the pictures on the wall, the rugs on the floor, looking in all directions and observing, no, participating in all of it.
When I wrote Naughty Nana, a children’s picture book about my wild and crazy Old English sheepdog, who “just wants to have fun,” I went into the zone so deeply that I became Nana. Since she is the narrator of the book, I had to know what she was thinking in that goofy canine brain of hers. I had to walk on all fours and communicate with nudges and rollovers, digging with my paws and jumping with exuberance. I didn’t actually crawl on the ground, but mentally, I was in her body and mind, envisioning the world from her point of view. When I was able to do that, I did my best writing.
Writing an adult mystery novel, Murder in the One Percent, required a different form of empathy, but again, I had to get into the heads of several diverse characters. One night I was so deeply into the zone that the plot ran away with me, taking me to an unplanned event involving a horseback riding accident. This event turned out to be pivotal in the overall plot of the book, and I owe it all to being in the zone.
How does one go about reaching the zone? There is no surefire route. We hear of writers who are transported by alcohol or drugs, but I wouldn’t recommend relying on those. I have had some zone-like experiences when dreaming or exercising, times when my mind empties itself of distracting thoughts and allows me to focus on my story. I tell my creative writing students to write as if they were the actors in the screenplays of their stories, fixed in their settings, driving the action of the plot. Then, if they are lucky, the zone will take over to transform the writing from good to great.
Does writing from the zone make a difference in the quality of the book? I’ll let my readers answer that question.
Naughty Nana is available at www.palmcirclepress.com
, and Murder in the One Percent, published by Black Opal Books, will be available later this year.