Friday, 19 April 2013

The Writing Zone: 5 Top Tips For Staying There - Lucy Coats

The Writing Zone - hard to describe, but every writer knows when they get there.  For me it's as if the left side of my brain is an empty pool, because all the good stuff is compacted in the right half.  Like rich moist compost. I'm in this place right now, at the very start of a new novel, and it's as if I also have a kind of excited spring of fizzy idea-champagne bubbling up inside me. In my own adaptation of Emilie Sandé's song:
"I wanna write, I wanna spout, I wanna type till the words dry out." 
So, once you're in it, how do you stay there, with all the demands of everyday life pressing on you? This is how I do it - you may be different, and I'd love to hear other writers' top tips in the comments section below.

1: First Clear The Desk Decks. All that Feng Shui stuff about clean desks and uncluttered space works well for me.  I've just finished a 4-book series for the States, and I had a ritual clearing of the desk decks this week, putting away all the old research books, and replacing them with new and relevant ones. It's like preparing a seedbed for new plants - it helps me to get into the Zone faster, and when I'm there to feel that I'm in my own specially created New Book Space.

2: Cut Out The Inessentials. So what if my sheets don't get ironed? Dusty house? Don't care. Anything that can wait, should. This makes more time for writing, and at this stage, every moment is precious. I'm lucky - at this point in my life my kids have flown the nest, and I have a supportive husband, so this is easier for me to do than for many women. In earlier days, I wrote when I could and did what I had to to keep the family fed and clothed. What is inessential now was essential then.

3: Cultivate The Art Of Saying NO. This also includes saying no to yourself.  So, I put on the excellent AntiSocial and block off all social media, email and everything else distracting. This week I was supposed to be at the London Book Fair all three days. Because I was in the Zone, I said no, and cancelled. While I love LBF, getting on with writing the book was simply more important to me, so I went for one (very worthwhile) meeting, and sat and scribbled for the rest of the time.

4: Be Gentle With Yourself. Sometimes, when you're in the Zone, you need to make time for dreaming. This is the hardest part for others to understand. If I need to have half an hour's nap to work through a tricky plot point, then I do, and I don't feel guilty about it. I personally also feel quite fragile emotionally when I'm at the beginning of a book - all my love is with this entrancing new challenge, so I don't want to be around a lot of people and noise. That's another reason I didn't go to LBF this time. Too much mental overload - and I didn't want to clutter my brain with anything other than MY book.

5: The Notebook and Scrivener. For every new book I write, I have a new notebook. This one's royal purple leather from Castelli, and suits my subject perfectly (I'd show it to you here, but once again Blogger is being aggravating about loading photos). I don't usually decorate them, but I did this time. It made the book feel grown up and real and alive. I write my notes in pencil - there's something about that which makes the creative juices flow for me. Can't explain why! I also have a new Zone ritual, which involves setting up a new Scrivener file for the book. Scrivener is a recent discovery, and I find it amazing and useful and the best writing tool in the world.

Do let me know what your tips are for staying in the Zone - and also how it feels for you to be there. I'll look forward to hearing from you all!

Lucy's new picture book, Bear's Best Friend, is published by Bloomsbury 
"A charming story about the magic of friendship which may bring a tear to your eye" Parents in Touch 
"The language is a joy…thoughtful and enjoyable" Armadillo Magazine. 
"Coats's ebullient, sympathetic story is perfectly matched by Sarah Dyer's warm and witty illustrations." The Times   
Her latest series for 7-9s, Greek Beasts and Heroes is out now from Orion Children's Books. 
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Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at Ed Victor Ltd


Lari Don said...

I can recognise all of this! I've just entered the zone of a new novel too, and I've opened a new journal, and stuck pictures of locations and family trees on my wall. I'm also aware that this is a time when I'm a fairly useless mother and friend, because even when I'm physically with other people, my head is with my new characters, getting to know them. But the new book zone is the most wonderful place! Enjoy it! (And I admire you for saying NO! I must try it sometime...)

Zoë Marriott said...

I really need to cultivate the art of saying no... not that it always works, of course, even when you do. Sometimes people hear 'yes' and go on expecting you to do stuff anyway.

Lucy Coats said...

Ah! The Art of Saying No has clearly struck a chord with both of you. I'm polite but firm, and always very clear. As professional writers, I think people MUST be made to understand that writing the book comes first, and if they don't understand no the first time, then I say it again, louder and even more firmly. After that, I get my pointy kicking boots out... *does fierce and scary authory glare*

Anonymous said...

When I write I use Microsoft Office One note, which seems very similar to Scrivener. It helps inspire me visually, in particular when I have a coloured picture background and images around the outside of where I am writing! I also seem to be love with notebooks! I'm not on social networking sites yet, so I don't have that problem ... yet!

Linda Strachan said...

Great post, Lucy!

I definitely need to clear the decks, but it helps that I always keep my shed desk clear of everything other than things to do with the book I am currently writing, so when I go out there it is all around me.

The old laptop that I use in the shed cannot connect to the internet so that solves the problem of social media and emails arriving, tempting me away!

Family all grown up but now grandchildren are a great temptation... housework is NOT!

Penny Dolan said...

Such a useful post, Lucy.

I have, this week, just completed a NO! and passed on the papers and responsibility.

However, I had to plan the NO! as a long-term strategy (because I did not want the organisation to fold), warning people I wouldn't be continuing and so on.

This week the handover happened - and I feel such relief it is no longer on the nagging list of Occasional-but-Urgent-Things-To-Do that infiltrate the writing brain & writing time.

But having done it once, I can see how to do it for something else. Assertive at last . . .?

Helene Poulakou said...

So very true, that others don't understand how a book is still being "written" even when a writer puts pen and paper aside!
Totally resonates with me.

Nicola Morgan said...

So many good points, Lucy. I'd love to get to grips with Scrivener - maybe you can sort me out over lunch on Weds! xx