The idea: A 4-week blog series in which eight (8) writers give their views on eight (8) different writing process guides. For more details, visit here.

This week’s topic: Getting Into the Zone: What goes into the creative process of writing a novel? (i.e. Author’s mindset, the writer’s environment, etc.)

The contest: Join in the fun by blogging about the week’s topic on your own site. Be sure to post the link in this thread for a chance to win a free book! More details here. Last week’s winner is Karla Ellenbach! Email me at to get your free book!

The writers and their guides: Click on any of the writer’s names below to view their blog.

Cory Jackson: Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream

Kate Hart: Stephen King’s On Writing

Jamie Blair: Thomas Monteleone’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Writing A Novel

Laura McMeeking: Natalie Naimark-Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Debra Driza: James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure

Leila Austin: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

Sarah Harian: Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s Writing Fiction

Jennifer Wood: Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing


Getting Into the Zone: What goes into the creative process of writing a novel? (i.e. Author’s mindset, the writer’s environment, etc.)

Last week’s post was full of how I disagreed with Robert Olen Butler’s definition of an artist in his novel, From Where You Dream. This week’s post is the opposite. It’s a lovefest because Butler knows me. He knows my best and worst habits better than I do. I’m pretty sure he’s my writing therapist or a parent calling me on the carpet. Here’s what Butler told clueless me about me.

On functional fixedness:

…you have a certain place and certain objects that you associate only with a certain task, eventually the associational values build up in such a way that when you go to that place and engage those objects, you are instantly completely focused on that task.

Apparently, this is why I can only plant myself in front of the television when I’m at home (as I write this an infomercial for a 70s music collection is on. That’s just sick. Not the 70s music, but that I’m watching an infomercial.). It’s the task I associate with the place. And that’s why I’ve herded myself to Starbucks to write for the last couple of years. I knew it was my habit to write there, and now I have a name to put to my habit. Functional fixedness is the reason a remote is attached to my hand at home and my fingers burn up the keyboard with an extra-hot, no whip Toffee Nut Latte at hand in the land of my neighborhood 24-hour Starbucks.

Butler gives this advice:

Find a place and some objects that you go to and engage only when you’re writing.

He also advises you to write every day. When I’m “in the zone” the words come out of nowhere at light speed. And then there are the days in between where every word feels worthy of the Delete key. Butler says:

You may find – this is dangerous – that you can take a day off every six or seven days. When you do, you’ll be grumpy and out of sorts and things will be uncomfortable…If you let three or four days go by it’s as if you’ve never written a word in your entire life.

And I thought, “Damn, it’s like he’s in my head, except for that crazy bit about discounting genre writers.” This is exactly what happens to me, though I’ve never been able to vocalize it. When the writing is flowing, my manuscript is like a lover, and I mourn every minute we are apart. And when I stop writing, it’s like a lover has broken my heart, and I just can’t find my way back into the dating game. I’m pinning this quote somewhere I can see it as a reminder that I need to write something every day.

One of Butler’s most intriguing ideas (and my favorite) he refers to as dreamstorming. This is part and parcel of being in the zone.

It’s very much like an intensive daydream, but a daydream that you are and are not controlling.

I’ve lost whole days writing. Quite happily. Beginning the day with one crew at Starbucks, I’ve looked up to find myself surrounded by an entirely different crowd. And I never even noticed the change. Ten hours can feel like ten minutes when the story is coming. Thank goodness Butler gives practical tips for getting back to that place. Starbucks, my headphones, an iTunes playlist, a Toffee Nut Latte, and my laptop. These are the keys to getting into my zone.

What about you?