A few weeks ago, a friend who has read my time management book 'Half a Million Words in Nine Months' asked me: 'Do you feel like you need to be in a zone or space for writing?'
It's a good question, because I hear a lot of writers talking about 'the zone' or 'the muse'. However almost universally, the long time, prolific authors don't believe in it, or say you have to teach yourself to make 'the zone' when you need it.
I told my friend (who is a new mother) that it was like being a mother. You just do it. You don't get to not do it. You don't get to decide for a few days that you don't feel like being a mother and go back to being a single party girl. You just have to be a mother. She said her manuscript wasn't screaming or kicking or hungry and latched on to her whether she liked it or not, and that's fair enough. It was, perhaps, a bit of an intense analogy.
If you want to write seriously, you should treat it like a job though. You probably don't wake up 'feeling' like you want to go to work. Even if you love your job. However you need the money so you do it. Sometimes it takes some coffee and grumbling, but you do it, because there isn't much choice. If you approach writing with the same attitude, that you just have to do it, you will, well, do it.
As I have said before, however, I rarely have to 'drag' myself to write. I enjoy it. Yes, it is work, yes it is a job, but I like doing it. Even the difficult bits are difficult in a way I enjoy, and I really only struggle when my health makes focusing difficult.
So what about 'the zone'? I think we've all felt it at some point. When the words are flying and you're having a fantastic time and you're so absorbed in the project you don't want to do anything else. It exists, you've felt it. So why do some authors say it's not real?
Brace yourself, I am about to blow your mind.
When you're not in the zone, what you're feeling, that reluctance, that unwillingness to write, is anxiety. There's no 'zone' you need to get into, you're just feeling insecure. The 'zone' you're looking for is ego. Or, at least, the temporarily ability to turn off that voice that says you aren't good enough.
'The zone' is your natural state, without criticism or doubt. It's an unwillingness to write, an apprehension, that is the unbalanced, abnormal state.
The trick is, those big prolific authors? They still feel anxious. They still feel pressure. They still feel like a huge fraud and worry their next book is going to tank. Only it's going to be super public. Everyone is going to know about it and talk about it. That anxiety doesn't go away when you're published. For a lot of people, it gets worse.
The trick is learning to turn that off while you are writing. Be anxious about that shit in the shower or driving or trying to sleep at night, but NOT when you are sitting down to write.
This is why I slow down when I have deadlines. The pressure, the anxiety, makes it difficult for me to write. It's also hard for me to write one book if I am getting edits for another book at the same time, because the criticism overflows and I can hear my editor's voice while I am trying to write. It feels like someone is looking over my shoulder, judging things as I type them.
You probably know the feeling. The point is, it's just that. It's a feeling. It's not a real thing that is actually happening, it is a thing you are imagining. It's like being deeply traumatised over your parents' death when they are both still alive.
'The zone' is just the times you can turn off that inner criticism for long enough to actually get shit done. There are several ways to achieve this, but what works for you is going to be pretty personal. So I am going to let you figure that out and say this instead:
I'm not going to say you don't deserve criticism. Maybe you're a shit person, I don't know. I am going to say that you and I both know that abusing and berating people doesn't motivate them. So if you keep abusing an berating yourself about your writing, it's not about motivating yourself. It's about making an excuse so you don't have to do it.
But you actually don't have to do it. Creating art is an optional extra in life. Something we are privileged to have the opportunity to do. Don't piss away your chances because your ego isn't playing ball today.
And remember, support other writers. Tell them you're excited to read their stuff, tell them what you love about it. They feel just as insecure about their writing as you do about yours. We're all in this together, start acting like a fucking team.