We all have our habits, our preferred mode to work. Everyone has a zone. And for writers, it’s so important. The zone is where we live, where we create.
But, like Dante’s Inferno, there are different circles of “the zone”.
Circle 1: New project zone
New project! It’s exciting! It’s the easiest zone to access, it travels with you. The new project zone can pop up while you’re sitting on the couch, watching TV. It can sprout while you’re on the train, in a museum, out to dinner. It can sprout so suddenly, all you can do is grab the closest laptop/notebook/writing surface and scribble down your thoughts.
Circle 2: Serious drafting zone
Once you’re past the New Project ring, you’re seriously drafting. This zone appears when you’re in your safe writing space—be it the couch, at your desk, or in your favorite coffee shop—with your coffee/tea and maybe some writing music. It’s a mellow zone, almost zen, that gets your ideas flowing.
Circle 3: Blocked zone
This is the zone of molasses, where you have to fight for every word. This zone is strain and fight and frustration, but can be defeated if approached at an oblique angle. This is a short zone. It will pass.
Circle 4: Downhill sledding zone
This is the zone where the end is in sight, where everything is leading towards that final sentence, that final period, that sigh of relief. It’s unstoppable, it’s breakneck. There’s no need to prepare yourself, to get your tea and snacks and soothing music. This zone is going to demand you write, and won’t wait for you to change into your sweatpants and won’t let you stop for paltry things like food and sleep and bathroom breaks. You are trapped there until you’re done.
Circle 5: Cold shower zone
After the downhill sledding zone, you might not be smelling to great. You might have forgotten to shower in all the excitement.
Well, your first draft is the cold shower to remove that stink.
First drafts are awful. First drafts reek of bad prose. And like a cold shower, you have to grit your teeth and force yourself to take it, because the only other option is continuing to stink.
So take a deep breath, jump in, and clean yourself.
Circle 6: Editing zone
In Inferno, Dante described this circle as the one where “Eye of the Tiger” played on repeat.
Which is totally a thing. I studied Inferno for a month in college. So I’m an expert.
This is the zone of sweatpants. It’s the zone of takeout, of snacks, or caffeine in many forms. There is no soothing music in this zone. There is just punching meat music here. And it goes on forever.
Circle 7: Feedback zone
This zone is more like those lazy river rides at the water park. Or an escalator. It’ll get you where you need to go, as long as you don’t fight against it. Just ride it and listen.
Circle 8: Editing AGAIN zone
What? You thought you escaped the editing zone? AHAHAHAHA.
You never escape. You wander that desert until you collapse. And, hopefully, some Virgil-like person (ok, I haven’t exactly thought this metaphor through) guides you out.
Circle 9: The long goodbye
You’re never really done writing. There’s no way to achieve perfection. But you do reach a point where there’s nothing more you can do, and you release your creation out in the world.
This is the slow unwind, the ticking down of gears. This is where the t’s are crossed and the i‘s are dotted. This is the last week of summer camp, where you bid your tearful goodbyes and promise to write (even though you know you won’t).
It’s both happy and sad, joyous and heartbreaking. So surround yourself with the things that comfort you, a lot of which might have made the journey with you: sweatpants, tea, snacks, good music. Reunite the gang one final time, and say goodbye.
You’re out. You’re free.
Until you start again.
Sound off in the comments: what zone are you in, and what are your tricks to getting through it?