Getting into the Zone: A Shortcut
By Evan Braun
Right now I’m in the process of first-drafting a new book, and for the last month I’ve been in the exciting white-hot creativity phase where I’m pumping out about 1,000 new words every day, on average, hurtling toward the finish line. But those words don’t just happen all by themselves. Writing them requires a lot of hard work. So when I’m in this first-drafting mode, the key is to stay productive, no matter what, and not let real life get in the way. Just taking a few days off can be enough to kill a writer’s momentum when they’re otherwise in the groove.
It can be oh so easy to skip a day, because excuses are literally endless. “I’m tired! Maybe I should go to bed early tonight. That way, I’ll be fresh to write in the morning.” (Except the scheduled morning writing almost never happens.) “I’m hungry! I’ll go to the kitchen and look for a bite to eat. Then I can focus better.” (Except afterward I end up taking a nap.) “I haven’t called my friend in a while. I wonder how she’s doing!” (Two hours later, I know everything about my friend’s life, but my manuscript isn’t any longer.) “The house is such a mess. I should clean it!” (Just kidding. This is never a temptation of mine…)
If this post were all about potential excuses not to write, it would go on forever. There are millions of them.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Rather, I want to tell you about a writing tip—more accurately, a productivity tip—that has been helping me a lot lately. If it weren’t for this one thing, I probably wouldn’t have written half the number of words I’ve clocked this month.
So what’s my secret? It’s really simple: I’ve made the decision never to stop writing when I get to the end of a scene. Like I said—simple. But as it turns out, it’s also pretty dang hard. The urge to stop at the end of a scene is really strong. If you fight that urge, though, you’ll be glad you did.
I’ll use today as an example. I’m writing this on a Monday, and on Monday nights some friends of mine get together at a nearby coffee shop and write together. That’s all we do. We go to the coffee shop at the same time, then sit down at our respective tables, put our heads down, and write. We may talk here and there, catch up for a minute or two, talk through a story problem we’re experiencing, but for the most part we just look down and focus on our manuscripts.
When I tell non-writers about this, they usually don’t see the appeal. “You what? You get together with your friends, and then you all ignore each other?” Well, kind of. But we’re not ignoring each other; we’re keeping each other honest. We’re providing accountability. When you commit to attending one of these evenings, there’s nothing to do but write, because the others aren’t there primarily to socialize either. And just the presence of other dedicated writers is always enough to ensure I make big progress.
I recommend all writers try this. But again, that’s not specifically when I’m here to write about. I’m just using this particular Monday evening as an example.
So I wrote a lot of words tonight. In fact, the two-hour coffee shop writing session was so creatively fulfilling that I rushed home afterward and, lo and behold, pulled out my computer and wrote some more. I ended up getting more than 2,500 words down on the page.
Here’s the thing: part of the reason I managed to be so productive today is that when I finished writing yesterday, I stopped in the middle of a scene. Why is that important? Starting new scenes and chapters can be really difficult, and I know from talking to other writers that I’m not alone in this. It’s because you’re mostly having to start from scratch. Once you’re a page or two into the chapter, you’ve built up momentum. You no longer have to pause for long periods of time wondering about what’s going to happen next. You’re in the zone!
So when you get to the end of your current scene tonight, here’s a tip: don’t stop. Instead of closing it down for the day, write a few paragraphs from the next scene or chapter. It might seem like a small thing now, but it’s going to pay big dividends the next day when you open your manuscript again and discover that you don’t have to start from scratch. It’ll be far easier to just pick right up where you left off. The words will start to flow with minimal effort.
Starting new scenes the night before is a great shortcut to get into the zone faster.
I challenge you to try this little tip for a week and see how it goes. I bet you’re going to have one of your most productive weeks in a long time.
About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. As a professional editor, Braun has seven years of experience working with Word Alive Press authors. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.