Every writer, likely every creator, knows that wonderful, transcendent feeling of being in the zone. There is nothing quite like getting lost in the flow, lost in a world of your own making, and coming up for air to realize you’ve met or surpassed your daily word count without even trying. Figuring out how to find and protect that magical creative zone can be difficult, some days impossible.
Jane Austen, according to a biography I read some years back, was most productive when she had the least going on in her life. A time when she lived with her mother and another female relative and Jane’s sole job was to prepare toast every morning. She then had the rest of the day free of interruption to write, because the three women depended on whatever income she could generate from her writing. It sounds like a wonderful dream to me, to have no other responsibility than making toast and the rest of my hours free.
Unfortunately, most of us live in a world where we are expected to do quite a lot more than make toast. If we wait to write our masterpieces until a glorious day when toast-making is our only responsibility, most of us will die before we’ve written a word.
We have to work with what we have and to do that, to have the most creative, fertile mind we must protect our creative bubble at all costs. Here are five ways I’ve found to protect my own creative zone:
- Meditate – I’ve recently taken up meditation and I’m not very good at it or very good about doing it. If I manage ten minutes once a week, I’m pretty proud of myself. Even though I don’t do it very often, I’ve found that its effects expand well past that ten minutes. Immediately afterward, I feel calm and relaxed, my brain moves at a slower pace and is more focused. Often during that ten minutes, when I’m supposed to be clearing my mind, ideas pop in and obsess me like they’ve just been waiting for me to stop thinking about the grocery list and distance learning and screen time limits and make room for creativity. Beyond those ten minutes, meditation has taught me to build a wall around myself and protect my calm and my creativity. Even if everyone in my house is grumpy, I don’t have to dive into the grumpy pool with them. Meditation has taught me to breathe and acknowledge the emotions and let them pass me by. I can empathize with the emotions of others, but I don’t have to take them on as my own. I can leave the rest of them to their grump fest and sneak off to write.
- Say no – It can be hard for every person, who has more to do than make toast, to say no. I know I do. I know the mom guilt and the wife guilt and the friend guilt and the daughter guilt and the . . . you get the idea . . . can be overwhelming, but you know what? I put most of it on myself. I place huge expectations on myself and then get annoyed when I can’t meet them. And when I’m overwhelmed because I’ve taken on too much, I can’t get in the zone and my creative bubble is burst. So, sometimes, I say no. And, sometimes, I say I need this time to write and I’m going to take it without feeling bad about it, because it feeds my soul. Prioritize your obligations and decide which ones can be eliminated altogether. Say no to potential obligations if they might interfere with your writing goals. You don’t have to become a hermit, but you do have to carve out a block of time to feed your creativity and you are going to have to say no at least occasionally to do it.
- Build boundaries – Decide what your daily writing goals are and don’t let anything interrupt them. Build boundaries by saying no, by having a writing space with a door you can close, by not letting other people’s emotions penetrate your bubble of calm creativity, and by blocking out all of the ghosts that live in your brain and like to show up every time you sit down to write. The ghouls who shriek that you aren’t good enough, that no one wants to read anything you’ve written, that your time could be more productively spent elsewhere. Shut the door on them all and just write.
- Don’t read the news – I know, I know, to be a good citizen, we should all read the news and keep up with current events. The problem is that a heartbreaking or infuriating or horrifying or terrifying news article can destroy your ability to create. It can change your mood, destroy your focus, and burst your creative bubble in every way imaginable. So, save the news for after you’ve reached your daily writing goals, or just don’t read the news at all during the time you’re writing a first draft.
- Stay off social media – I love and hate social media equally. It’s the best activity for a lazy, mindless moment of surfing, and it’s a good way to keep up with family and friends, but social media can pierce a creativity bubble like nothing else. Maybe you see a political post from a friend or relative and spend the day drafting, in your mind, a scathing response before reminding yourself that there’s no point in arguing on social media and they don’t want to hear your opinion anyway. Just me? Okay, but I bet you’ve wasted time surfing social media when you could be writing, or maybe you’ve seen a heartbreaking, or horrifying, or terrifying story on social media that’s distracted you. In any case, social media doesn’t serve creativity in any shape or form. Stay off it until you’ve reached your word count.
I’ll add that one of my favorite ways to get into the creative zone is to read gorgeous, funny, or romantic writing, the kind of writing that feels like a challenge and sends me to my keyboard just to see if I can even get close to that level of mastery.
Protect the creative bubble, y’all, but most of all, even on the days you don’t feel like writing, the days when your brain feels like a dry desert, sit down and write anyway, because the very best way of all to get in the creative zone is to write.