What gets you in the zone where everything clicks and you do your best work?
As a writer, I am always thrilled when I get in the zone. You know what I'm talking about. That magical place where you completely lose track of time and your mind and body just do the work as if you aren't consciously thinking about it. My entire life I've heard stories of athletes touting how great it is when they get in the zone. It can be an almost out of body experience where every shot they take in basketball swooshes. It just feels right. They have the flow. They're in the zone.
When I first started writing, I did not ever get in the zone. College papers, graduate school papers, my first and second book. No zone. Not for me. Sitting down to write was a laborious task. I did enjoy it (although I recall some all-nighters to finish college papers that I hated). It was work to write and the words rarely came easily to me. There was typing, then thinking, then typing, then grabbing a snack, then writing, then checking my email.
But now, as I tackle book number five, I slip right into the zone on a consistent basis and joy of joys...it's wonderful.
When it happens, I cannot keep track of time. When I'm writing and everything is clicking and my brain and my fingers are firing on all cylinders, I'm lost in it. And when I'm interrupted, or my alarm goes off, it's like coming up for air. I sometimes look around, wondering what has changed in the world since I've been so hyper focused mentally on my work.
The other day, I forgot to set my alarm before I sat down to write. While my youngest child attends preschool, I write in an empty classroom nearby so I can squeeze every possible minute of writing out of my two and a half hours. One minute it was 12:30. The next minute it was 2:40. Two hours - GONE. I had several excellent pages saved and a very irritated preschooler waiting for me. ("I don't like being the last one, Mom.") Sorry, kid. I was in the zone.
So what about you? Do you have activities where you get that mental flow going? Sports? Art? Work? Writing?
The zone seems to require that the subconscious mind takes over. And the activity needs to be one you have practiced over and over again until your body and mind operate on a sort of auto-pilot. But a good auto-pilot where you are creating your absolutely best work.
What do you do to help facilitate it? What do you do so you can access it faster and almost on demand?
Over the past few years, I have uncovered what works the best for me. Perhaps it will give you an idea or two.
For me, routine is key. My body and mind know that I start writing at 12:30 everyday. Whether I feel like it or not, I will write something and not stop until the alarm goes off. I also get up every day at 4:30am (I know how nerdy that makes me sound) and it took my body about two weeks to adjust. Now, I can often wake up before the alarm. I think it's the same for getting in the zone. It takes some practice for your mind and body and creativity to get disciplined by routine.
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the facet is turned on." ~ Louis L'Armour
I also like a simple environment. My writing desk at home needs to be clear of clutter. I don't even like to hang things on the wall. I told my husband I wanted a long desk where I could spread out notes. He built this for me. Simple. Clean. Perfect.
Some people swear by good music.
I could take it or leave it. Sometimes, if noise distracts me, I'll plug in my headphones and play instrumental music at a very low volume. But most times I know where and when to work so I won't be disturbed. I patron a couple locals spots - hurrying to score my favorite table in the back corner.
I can one-thousand percent not write at home when my children are awake. Even if they try to be quiet, my mom ear is always tuned into what they are doing or saying and I can't get in the zone. I don't even try. I might update my website or Facebook page or catch up on emails while they play or watch a movie, but I save writing for alone, quiet time.
What about you? Does any particular music rev up the creative juices? Is there a soundtrack to your best work?
So, before this summer, my routine for writing included grabbing a chocolaty snack and refilling my large unsweetened iced tea. A little sugar and caffeine would jump-start my afternoon. It was a food ritual I looked forward to (and my family is big on food rituals).
But over the summer, my husband and I started the Keto diet. I know the word "diet" is a dirty word to some, but we gave it a go because we wanted to get healthier. And boy has it helped. I rise early in the morning and write in the afternoon. This combination should all but guarantee I nod off during a writing session, or at the very least, stare dumbly at my computer screen for two hours. Eliminating sugar and most carbs has helped me avoid the after-lunch crash. Instead, I feel awake and alert. And best of all, before Keto, I sometimes had occasional brain fog. Have you experienced it before? For me, it would feel like I couldn't clear my mind. Simple things I wanted to recall would escape me. It felt just how it sounds - like a foggy brain. Keto cleared that up for me. I'm not about to give anyone health advice (I started Keto after a week vacation of drinking beer and eating smores most days), but Keto worked for me.
5. Circadian Rhythm
Experts talk about finding your circadian rhythm and planning tasks in your day according to it. I think most of us probably know what time of day we function at our best. For my entire life I considered myself a night-owl, and to some degree I think I still am. When the sun goes down, I want to create. Write, craft, quilt, design - whatever strikes me. And before children, that was what I did.
But alas, I can't stay up late anymore, or I'll be a complete jerk to my family the next day when I'm running on little sleep and a caffeine drip. What I can do now is figure out which time of day I am at my sharpest.
I rise very early every day, but I can't write until late morning. One of my friends is the same way and won't do any important tasks before 10am. He says he's made too many mistakes in the past. He leaves the important decisions until late morning or the afternoon.
So what about you? Have you given any thought to getting in the zone? Are there any things you do to get there consistently?
Good luck. May the zone be with you.