Life’s Better In the Zone

Yesterday I wrote.

That wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary — excepting unforseen catastrophes, I try to write something every day.

The difference with yesterday was that I tripled my typical output.

I’m working on a novel right now, and have a couple shorts bubbling away. (People said I should put one out for Halloween, being a horror writer and all, but neither is ready yet. I’d rather wait until I love them more.) Yesterday I sat down, set my timer, figured I’d get some words down on the novel then go about the rest of my day.

But what happened instead was that I fell into that mystical place: the Zone. Where the words seem to flow through you, whispered in your ear by some other storyteller. All you have to do is catch them before they wink out, and nail them down before they get away. When you’re there, you know: it felt like my hands were guided by someone, or Something other than myself, and when I read over what I’d written it seemed to have come from someone else altogether. At the same time, the voice is completely, one hundred percent me at my best, and I couldn’t be happier. I love the story, and everyone and everything in it. I know what’s happening and where it’s going.

I came away from the session with legs cramped and brain spinning. Pleasantly exhausted and wrung completely dry. It was running a marathon. It was winning a gameshow. It was years of practice at writing distilled into one perfect afternoon.

I can only hope Whatever that was comes to visit me again soon. We’ve got a lot of work to do, the two of us.

The Pomodoro Technique for Productivity

“The Pomodoro technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.[1] The technique uses a timer to break down periods of work into 25-minute intervals called ‘Pomodoros’ (from the Italian word for ‘tomato’) separated by breaks…”Wikipedia

I just came across this technique today, after falling down one of the endless internet rabbit holes the technique itself should help combat.

The basic idea is this: set a timer, work (write) for 25 minutes, take a five minute break, repeat. You get the reward of a quick break just when it’s most likely that your mind has started to wander.

I bought a timer (digital, though manually-wound is recommended) and gave it a shot. Other than the fact that I cut out early to watch a show about Voodoo, it worked well. Knowing that I had a break coming up freed me to concentrate on my story without feeling like I was glued to the chair all night. It’s a simple thing, but it seems to be working so far. And hell, I’ll take all the help I can get.

PS – The technique is called “Pomodoro” because its inventor used a tomato-shaped timer. I like to think of each of my “pomodoros” as being one of the mutant tomatoes from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!. Take that, lack of focus. I WILL DESTROY YOU.

BoardZilla

I decided to try the whole planning-a-novel-on-index-cards-thing, so I bought a new cork board to hold them. I already had one in the office, but I decided I needed more space.

Ahem.

The small one is for mere mortals.

I had to move the front seats of the car forward, collapse the back seats, and was barely able to squeeze the trunk shut. The board came from our local Ikea-knockoff, so its size was given in centimeters, and I’m a bad Canadian and suck at metric but I’m thinking it’s at least four and a half feet tall. Maybe five.

I lugged it through the back door. My husband was gaming on the couch in the living room, and when he saw my new monstrosity he just laughed.

“That’s ridiculous! That thing’s HUGE! You could use it as a sled.”

“Shut up.”

“Or hold it over your head for a parachute…or use it to build an addition on the house…”

“SHUT UP.”

“Parasail…area rug…bet it won’t fit up the stairs.”

I rolled my eyes, asked him to kindly shut the fuck up, and went to carry it upstairs. I managed to put a ding in the wall, which made him laugh so hard I thought he’d pee himself.

I love my new cork board. It will be the answer, I know it. I’m guessing this thing’ll hold about 60 index cards, which should get me through just fine (ha!).

I told a coworker about it, and without missing a beat she said, “Flotation device in a flood.”

Shut up.

Writing Game: Race the Commercials

Just a quick game, because I know you don’t have time.

In fact, that’s what this game is for.

Next time you’re watching tv, keep a notebook (or your laptop) nearby. When the commercial break starts, GO. You have 2 minutes and 20 seconds to scribble (or type) like mad. How many words can you get down? Can you write a paragraph? A whole conversation? I’ve read that an hour-long show ends up being only ~40 minutes when you delete the commercials. That’s 20 minutes of time you didn’t think you had.

When your show comes back, your pen goes down. You’re free to completely ignore your story until the next break.

You may find, like I did, that you’d rather work the story than watch the show. And that your 20 minutes of writing just became 40. But if not, you’re still 20 minutes ahead on your story. Congratulations!

Writer’s Talisman

“…Our talisman is updated from a design found in an ancient grimoire of magical symbols. The design consists of Angelic sigils and alchemical symbols around a rendering of a Celtic-stylized, six-pointed star by artist Chris Bennett. These symbols are said to create a powerful magic to help one find the right word at the most opportune moment.”

It can’t hurt, right?

Click here for yours.

(photo and witchcraft from Amazon.com)

Writing Game: Pick the Next Word

I was reading Pillars of the Earth last night (and I’m NOT FINISHED so no spoilers please!) I reached the bottom of one of the pages and noticed it cut off mid-sentence; the rest of the phrase would be on the next page. I caught myself guessing which word would complete the sentence. It so happens that when I turned the page, I was right!

What does it mean? Absolutely nothing! But it’s a fun little game to see if you’re on the same wavelength as the author. By guessing the next word, you’re putting on your writer-hat and interacting with the book and its language.

Maybe you can see right away why the author went with that particular word choice; it might have been used for brevity’s sake, or because it was the most descriptive. Maybe it’s a signature word the author uses frequently (Ayn “Sanction” Rand, I’m looking at you).

If you guessed a different word, does your word substantially change the meaning of the original phrase? Or are they synonymous? Do you like yours better?

Try it! I’d love to know how it goes.

NYT: “A Book a Year is Slacking”

“For years, it was a schedule as predictable as a calendar: novelists who specialized in mysteries, thrillers and romance would write one book a year, output that was considered not only sufficient, but productive.

But the e-book age has accelerated the metabolism of book publishing. Authors are now pulling the literary equivalent of a double shift, churning out short stories, novellas or even an extra full-length book each year.”

Read the full article here.

Writers: are you concerned about productivity? How much output is “enough”?

Comic: How I Get Most of My Ideas

By Coffee Shop Comics

When in doubt, explode somebody.

I snagged this comic from somewhere a while back and had forgotten to note the source. When I Googled “and then your insides explode” I found this:
“Can your insides to [sic] explode if you smoke too much weed?”
Oh, Internet. Never change.