Do You Enter the Zone?

This week I’m knee deep in editing the first draft I finished a couple of weeks ago.
And I’m in “the zone.” I actually did a google search to figure out what was going on—was I the only one? I started by searching for “writer becomes character.” Because a weird thing is happening: almost every time I sit down to work on this book, I start “seeing” my main character’s world, feeling her feelings—entering “the zone.”

After a few minutes of searching, I finally stumbled upon an older post called “Getting Into Character: Fiction Writing Exercises.” (This post also has some great exercises for helping you get in the zone.)

“Many artists and creative people talk about entering “the zone.” This is a state of mind in which you’re running on automatic pilot. Your right (creative) brain is fully engaged and your left (logical) brain is snoozing with one eye open. It is in this state that people often get lost in an activity, lose track of time, and produce some of their best creative work.”

When I am in the zone, I am quiet, more focused. I’m watching and hearing things in my mind: a conversation, a vignette, a scene. I can see places and people. I visualize walking into my main character’s kitchen and from the kitchen to the left, past a peninsula to the main room, a bank of windows straight ahead overlooks the water—to my right a staircase leads upstairs.

Sometimes, if I’ve been working intensely for several hours and I need to run an errand, go out of the house, I am silent and anti-social. I don’t want to leave the world I’ve created in my mind and now on paper. MEH (My Engineer Husband) says he can tell when I’ve entered the zone because I have the same look on my face I get when we’re in a restaurant and I’m listening to others diners’ conversations, like in this post. If I talk about someone—he feels he needs to ask: “Is this a real person or someone in the book?”

Getting into the zone is not always easy. These days it usually happens right when I sit down to work. I’m there. But sometimes I need to go somewhere to trigger the feelings. When this happens, I’ll go and sit in the spot I imagine is the view my character sees from her window. I sit on the rocks and I wait. I think about that place in my mind, that other place in another world, and my view shifts away from what’s in front of me—and into the world in my mind.
When you’re deeply involved in your stories, your characters, are you overwhelmed by their presence like I am? 

Do you enter “the zone”? 




  1. JM Merchant says:

    So pleased you’re finding it easier to immerse yourself Julia, it’s always a buzz when that happens. Imagination can be so powerful sometimes!

  2. Wow, Julia. I am SO psyched for you that you can summon the zone when you sit down. This reminds me of the post I wrote in May about achieving flow (flow – zone … same thing). In my post, I talked about how you can actually LEARN how to invoke it at will. You’ve reminded me that I need to try the exercises again so that I can sit down and “be there.” I SO want to be in the zone like you are, and I’m so, so happy for you.

    Here’s the post – FYI:

    Too funny that MEH has to ask if you’re talking about “real” people. Your characters ARE real!

  3. I looooooooooooooove being in the creative zone. It’s a powerful feeling that I long to return to whenever I can’t quite “get there.” It’s also why I love connecting and talking with other writers b/c, if you try to explain the zone to non-writers, they assume you are doing real drugs, rather than being high on creativity. There are times when I’ve been completely immersed in my story, perhaps in a scene where it was snowing, and then I go outside to check my mail (on a summer day), and I am shocked that I don’t feel snowflakes falling down on me. It’s *that* real to me. So yeah, I get what you’re saying! And hooray for you, that the zone has been your experience as of late. 😀

    I remember during NaNoWriMo, one of the updates talked about how, when you’re in the zone and caught up in the momentum of your novel, someone else, say, at the grocery store, can be talking to you, and you’ll be nodding your head–the appearance of listening, but in your mind you’re reviewing a plot hole or dialogue. LOL… It’s good to know I’m not alone.


  4. Nancy Kelley says:

    I’m more likely to get in the zone during a rough draft. I can close my eyes and just type exactly what’s happening in my mind. (That’s one of my NaNoWriMo secrets actually.)

  5. Haven’t been there in a long time (as we’ve discussed) but you’re really giving me hope that I can get there again. You go girl!!!!! Cheering you on from Minnesota!

  6. Emma Pass says:

    Absolutely – and it’s a wonderful feeling. My characters become so real, I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw them getting on the bus. Makes the real world feel very flat and boring by comparison sometimes.

    Good luck with the editing!

  7. CMSmith says:

    I know exactly what you mean about being in the zone, although for me it’s never really been about fiction.

    But when I’m in the zone and someone tries to talk to me, it’s like the world shifts.

    Another great post. So good that you’ve consciously figured this out and know how to replicate it.

    I love the photo and want to be there.

  8. I would have been really jealous here, reading about you going into the zone these days almost as soon as you sit down to write – except that it just happened to me last night.

    I got out a screenplay I hadn’t worked on for eight months. I was nervous about starting – wasn’t sure I’d be able to pick up the thread. But I got into it right away and eight pages later I had lost track of time so completely I’d forgotten to have withdrawals from not looking at my email for so long.

    I had set myself a goal to write four pages but I easily went beyond that without even noticing the pages rolling by. And the writing was so fun. It’s a comedy, so it should feel fun, right? But that’s not always guaranteed. So I feel lucky to already be in the zone with my script.

    So glad to hear your edits are absorbing you so deeply. What a good feeling, eh? :~)

    ~ Milli

    P.S. I am a little jealous of you becoming your character. I think I’d go nuts if I tried that for this script – there are three married couples. I’d end up with multiple personalities – lol!

  9. I totally relate, Julia. I enter the zone twice … when I “inhabit” the story as you suggest, and during the editing process.

    Congrats on your “zone entry,” and may you have many, many more. 🙂

  10. Jo, I’ve always known I have a vivid imagination, but wow…. this is imagination on steroids! As you say, a definite buzz!

    Melissa, It’s pretty amazing how possible it is to summon those feelings… I was surprised myself. I fully believed the zone was over and done with after draft 1 — but fortunately not! As for poor MEH, he has to ask: is it someone IRL, on Twitter, or a character in the book. As he says, life is NEVER boring 🙂

    Barb, Yes, I tried to explain today to someone about the zone, and she looked at me like I was a little crazy. I’m glad you understand! And I think I might be the same way with the summer day and snow (there’s no snow in this book, strangely since it takes place in Maine — remember, I forgot the weather completely LOL). As for the grocery store, I won’t be a bit surprised if I run into two of my main characters there — I swear I thought I saw one of them at Starbucks the other day! 🙂

    Nancy, I wondered about the rough draft vs. editing and whether I’d not be in the zone during this phase. I have to say that during the “utilitarian” jobs like fact checks not so much, but still… I can close my eyes and go there. My husband was stunned when I described in detail the character’s home — as though I had physically been in the building. It is a little freaky!

  11. Nina, Thanks for the cheers and encouragement — I think I actually heard them all this way 😀 Seriously, I think if I can get back there, anyone can. It’s been a long time. There’s always hope!

    Emma, It’s the best feeling. And I do know about not being surprised to see one of them get on the bus. I thought I saw my main character at Starbucks the other day…. once I got a grip, it suddenly made me realize what she will look like, which is awesome. Yes, it can make the real world a little flat and dull! 😀

    Christine, I know what you mean about the zone in other writing — no question I’ve entered it when doing technical writing. I wrote complete long (200-400 page) manuals, looked back and literally could not remember the process of doing it. Unreal. And as you say, when someone talks, it’s like the world shifts. Very well said! p.s. when you’re in Maine, I’ll take you to that spot — it IS very real! 🙂

    Milli, It is you right Milli? (I’ve never seen this “handle”!) I’m so glad you entered the zone last night! (when I say that I feel like we’re a bunch of wandering zombies or something, hahaha). That’s awesome! Isn’t it so weird how it’s possible to lose track of time? And who says you’ll be the only one w/ multiple characters… by the end of this I’ll probably have absorbed every character in the book, LOL! 🙂

    Mahesh, I love that term “inhabit” the story. Exactly! And I am happy to be doing it again with editing; I thought it would be over and done after the first draft! I’m hoping for many more zone entries — they are amazing and awesome. Glad to find a fellow zone-ite! 🙂

  12. Yep, that’s what it’s like for me too, Julia. Sometimes it’s hard to be in the land of the living-when the characters are talking. I find that sitting down at approx. the same time everyday helps to get my mind (or where ever these things comes from!) conditioned to perform.
    So glad you are finally doing your creative fiction writing again. I know how much you’ve wanted this. 🙂

  13. Ann says:

    Hi Julia! Congrats on “zoning out”! I’m not a writer, but I know what you mean….when I’m thinking about cooking all I can do is concentrate on that dish – a cookbook….whatever! I’ve got to get in the kitchen because I’m useless to everyone until I get this “dish” out of my head and onto a plate!

    Sometimes it’s just cooking in general and if its not too late (sometimes even that doesn’t matter) get me in the kitchen! If timing is bad….set me infront of a cookbook!

    If not – don’t expect me to be good company! :o)

  14. The zone is an awesome place to be! I’m a little envious that you can fall into it as easily during editing. 😉 My editing process has a lot of wrestling with words, but I’m hoping that will change and become easier.


  15. Cynthia, It really is hard to be in the here and now when the story is so present in my mind! That makes so much sense to condition yourself to write/get in the mindset at one time of day — what a great tip. And you’re so right, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time; thank you — you’ve always been so encouraging and supportive!

    Ann, That’s so interesting that you’ve experienced the same thing while cooking! Of course it makes sense! And I know exactly what you mean about bad timing leading to not being the best of company — that happens to me too!

    Ashlee, It isn’t always as easy as I (might have) made this sound! That’s one of the reasons I go and sit at the rocks, to get into the frame of mind. I have to admit that right now it’s easier than other times because I want so much to finish! But sometimes it also feels like wrestling, so I know what you mean — and then I plug away anyway and hope it will become easier!

  16. That’s the hardest part for me. Settling down and slipping into a character. That’s probably why I haven’t worked on anything longer in a while. I miss it.

  17. SouthMainMuse, I completely understand how it feels to miss it… I started this manuscript a long time ago and it felt forced much of the time. I hope (and trust) that this won’t be the last manuscript I feel this way with, but I do worry, as I assume all of us writers do. I hope you’ll find the zone — maybe check out some of Melissa’s exercises (she commented earlier in the comment history).

  18. Liz says:

    Zone Times are the best! I can’t hold it, though, if I have to stop and go somewhere or do something else. You’ve got great zone control, Julia! 😉

  19. The zone is a great place to be in and I love your description of it. As a poet, I haven’t experienced it as becoming a character but more as being totally in tune with my senses.

  20. Liz, I love it! Zone control! I am the master of my zone! Thank you for the compliment!

    Adriene, I’m glad you enjoyed my description! I can imagine as a poet you would have those times of being in tune with your senses — how wonderful! That happens with me on occasion wth my creative nonfiction as well. Thank you so much for your comment and for your visit to my blog!

  21. As an actor, and playwright, I do get in that zone often, because I’m constantly ‘acting’ out the part, reading aloud. Finding the right words that roll off the toungue. I do love that zone. It’s comfy there, and interesting.

  22. Susan says:

    Since I’m just starting to think about my novel idea, I’m not in the zone yet. I do know the feeling though. It’s when your characters take over and write their own story, and you can’t keep your pen or fingers moving fast enough to capture it all. Alas, that seldom happens to me, but I’m hoping to experience it again. I’m happy that it comes so readily to you.

  23. Texas Playwright Chick, I can well imagine how as an actor and playwright it would be possible (and maybe even necessary) to get into the zone. I love saying things out loud, too, and it would be cool to act out things you write and rehearse!

    Susan, Exactly! It’s nice to talk to other writers who understand that feeling of trying to type/write fast enough to keep up with the ideas! I wish you some zone writing of your own very soon!