Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Zoning in TKZ

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

I’ll be flying most of the day and may not get to respond to your comments. In case I don’t, here’s wishing all my TKZ blogmates and friends a wonder Thanksgiving Holiday.

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Someone once asked: “I’ve heard writers talk of being ‘in the zone’ regarding their writing, which I take to mean being in an altered state of extreme creativity. But how, without drugs or other stimulus, do you get into that state?”

In fact, we hear the term in the zone used often, not only with writers, but athletes, artists, and just about any activity that requires skill, creativity and deep concentration.

So what is “the zone” and how do we enter it? Why is it so hard to remain there for extended periods of time?

Being in the zone can last for a few minutes, a couple of hours or a whole day. For those that never seem to enter the zone, it might be because they try too hard to do so. Sort of like when we stop trying to solve a problem, the solution suddenly comes to us through our subconscious.

Let’s try to define what being in the zone means, especially when it relates to writing. For me, it’s a mental state where time seems to disappear and my productivity greatly exceeds normal output. It might start after I’ve finished lunch and sat down at my PC to work on a new chapter. Without any feeling of the passage of time, I suddenly realize a couple of hours have gone by and I’ve produced 1000 words or more. I don’t remember the passage of time or anything that deals with my surroundings. I only remember “living” or becoming immersed in the story’s moment, having the words flow from a deeper source, and “awakening” from the writing zone as if only a few moments have passed.

I’ve never been hypnotized, but I can assume that being in the zone is somewhat like self-hypnosis. My body remains in the here-and-now, but my creative senses somehow find a hidden room inside my mind, a place normally under lock and key. And I’m able to enter it for a short time to let what’s there emerge into the light of day.

It can also feel like driving down the Interstate on a long trip deep in thought and suddenly realize I can’t remember the past ten miles.

I’ve never been athletic, but I bet it’s a similar scenario: a golfer is able to tune out the surrounding crowd of tournament spectators, the dozens of network cameras, the worldwide audience, the cheers from the distant gallery as his opponents make a great putt, and he’s able to enter a place where only his game stretches out before him. The rest slips by in a blur. Personal mind control.

So what is a good method for getting into the zone? Some writers use the “running start” technique by reading the previous day’s work or chapter. It gets them back into the story and hopefully the new words start to flow.

Others listen to music. This is something I often do. Nothing with lyrics, though. I listen to movie scores or piano and guitar solos. I find that it can help set a mood or become background “white noise” that blocks out other audible distractions. That’s because, for me, the biggest obstacle to zoning is distractions. It’s important to reduce interruptions and distractions by creating an environment where they are minimized. This means shutting my office door, closing the drapes on the windows, unplugging the phone, disconnecting Internet access, and most of all, choosing a time to write when those things can be fully managed. Doing away with distractions is no guarantee that I will enter the zone at will, but it does give me a fighting chance to at least knock on the door to one of those dark, hidden rooms upstairs and let my story flow out.

How about you Zoners? What’s it like for you to write in the zone? And do you have a method to slip easily into the zone?

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“Cotton Stone is a heroine for the ages.” – Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thoughts About Authors Changing Genres?

This is a Reader Friday-type question, but I have a question for y'all: When an author whose work you have previously enjoyed begins writing in a new genre, using a different voice, how have you responded? Do you think it's a good idea for authors to use a pen name for a new style of writing, or are you willing to accept different voices from the same writer?

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne


For any of you who are on Facebook with me, you will know that last week I had a great deal to be thankful for, especially as a result of the kindness of strangers. 

The drama occurred last Wednesday when one of my neighbors (1st stranger really, as I don't know him very well) knocked at my door around 7:30 in the morning to tell me that he had just seen our beloved collie, Hamish (as shown in photo above), being lured up the road by two coyotes. I rushed outside (very glamorous in my PJs and dressing gown) to see the most surreal scene -  two coyotes nearly at the end of our street cunningly leading my dog along to what I have no doubt would have been a nasty end. I never truly believed all the stories about coyotes working together to lure large dogs away to be attacked by the pack - but I do now. 

In a panic I called out after Hamish, who initially looked back at me with a face that said "are you kidding me, I'm having way too much fun!". By this time my neighbor was running to his car, ready to help - because we both could see that Hamish was way too far away for me to get to him. It took me four attempts (and a lot of willpower not to scream at my dog) before Hamish turned reluctantly to come back to me. That was when the next stranger came in - running down her driveway to help coax Hamish and grab his collar. I'd never met her before, and although it was a little weird meeting in the circumstances (both in our PJs - saving my dog from coyotes!) I was touched by her concern. She was already on the phone to animal control telling them to send a patrol - having not only seen the amazing sight of two coyotes 'playing' with a collie but also making the decision to actively come outside and help rescue him.

So as you can see I have a lot to thank two relative strangers and this got me thinking, especially as this is Thanksgiving week, about the difference strangers can make. In my writing career I have been amazed how people who I've often never met, have gone out of their way to help me - be it booksellers, readers, conference organizers, blogger or reviewers. Although I've always tried to thank each person individually, I would also like to take this time to acknowledge how much we, as writers, rely on the kindness of strangers. I don't mean that in a 'taking pity' kind of way - I mean those active, 'go out of your way' actions that can often make all the difference to a writing career. All too often we have no way to repay these acts of kindness, except (I hope) by following their example and helping other writers in our midst.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, which 'stranger' would you thank if you could? Have you ever experienced a moment such as mine, where the kindness of strangers really made all the difference (and there is no doubt in my mind that without them Hamish would have been lost forever)? Well, now is the time, to acknowledge those moments. We should also aspire to be these sort of strangers - the ones who don't stand idly by - but who rush in to help when help is needed. 

Oh, and as a side note, this morning we received a 'coyote' calling card in the form of someone's dead chicken disemboweled on our lawn. I swear I feel like I'm suddenly in some kind of 'coyote godfather' movie...thank goodness we have strangers looking out for us!



Sunday, November 23, 2014

Using the Novel Journal for Writing Breakthroughs

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

I was at Bouchercon a week ago and did a panel with some other legal thriller authors. Before it began we were interacting with some people in the audience, and a woman in the front row made a funny comment about something I said, and I replied into the mike, “I’ll do the jokes, madam.”

We all had a chuckle. The moderator, who was sitting next to me, leaned over and whispered, “Do you know who that is?”

I shook my head.

“Sue Grafton,” he said.

Indeed, it was the amazing author of the alphabet series featuring gumshoe Kinsey Millhone. 

Which, when you think about it, is virtually unprecedented. Twenty-six mysteries around a single series character in a wide variety of mystery plots.

How, one might ask, does she make the magic happen book after book?

One answer is the novel journal. I read about this in Ms. Grafton's chapter from the book Writing the Private Eye Novel (Writer’s Digest Books, 1997). She calls this her “most valuable tool.”

What this tool does is provide a “testing ground” for ideas, a place for both left and right brain hemispheres mix it up a little. As she puts it:

Right Brain is creative, spatial, playful, disorganized, dazzling, nonlinear, the source of the Aha! or imaginative leap. Without Right Brain, there would be no material for Left Brain to refine. Without Left Brain, the jumbled brilliance of Right Brain would never coalesce into a satisfactory whole.

The novel journal is a free form document that is added to each morning before getting to work on the novel. This is what Sue puts in there:

The day’s date and a bit of diary stuff, how she’s feeling and so on. This is to track outside influences on her writing.

Next is notes about any ideas that emerged overnight. I especially like this part, because the writer’s mind has been working while I sleep and I want to pour out everything I can. The trick here is not to think too much about what you write. Just let it flow.

Third, she writes about where she is in the book. She “talks” to herself about the scene she’s working on, or problems that have arisen. In the “safety of the journal” she can play the What If game. She can debate things with herself. Right Brain and Left Brain can duke it out. She’s playful. “I don’t have to look good. I can be as dumb or goofy as I want.”

What happens then is that she finds she “slides” naturally into her writing day. There is no hesitancy as there might be if she just got to work on the WIP.  

Writing about this now excites me. I have to admit I’ve been lax about using this during this NaNoWriMo month. As I write this particular post (it’s Tuesday) I’m a little over halfway through my NaNo novel and feel the need to mine deeper into my writer mind. So I’ll be journaling away for the rest of the month. 

Yes, it was nice having Sue Grafton show up at my panel and crack wise.

Here are a few more tips on making the novel journal work for you:

Trust. Keep your fingers typing. Lose control. Don't worry if it's correct, polite, appropriate. Just let it rip. Stay with the first flash. If something scary comes up, go for it. That's where the energy is. Figure out what you want to say in the act of writing.

"We write and then catch up with ourselves." (Natalie Goldberg)

If you don’t know what to write in the journal, open a dictionary at random. Pick the first noun you see. Now start writing whatever that word suggests to you.

Work out problems in your novel by asking questions and letting your Right Brain suggest answers. Then let your Left Brain assess them.

Be specific. When something unique pops up, follow that lead. Don’t hesitate to write for five or ten minutes on one thing if that’s where you’re being led.

Be willing to be disturbed.

If you’re pantser, the journal will help you decide what to write next. If you’re a plotter, the journal will help you bring to life the scenes you’ve mapped out. And if plot or character takes a weird turn, you can hash it out in the journal until you decide how to use it. 


Give it a try sometime. I think you'll be pleased with the results. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Help! Help!



I hate to bother you with this but I need a bit of assistance, having exhausted my usual sources. In a nutshell…I have two different quotations which I plan to use as an introduction to a novel I am writing and I need the source of each.

The first is: “Italy is a land of actors…the least of which are on the stage.” I heard this one repeatedly from my father, God rest his soul, and he would recite it when referencing his mother-in-law, my maternal grandmother. He insisted that the source of the quote was Orson Welles. I have researched the quote and have been unable to find it attributed to Orson Welles, or to Orson Bean for that matter. And, no, Orson Scott Card didn’t say it, either. I can’t ask Dad if he was sure, though I know he was; please believe me when I tell you that it would have been easier to disinter Welles, prop him up, and bribe him to utter the statement in question than it would have been to persuade Dad that Welles was not the source. Anyone?

The second quote is one used repeatedly, and never sourced, by my late friend Michael Fenneman. He would usually say the following when we would see an attractive woman: Mike would mime the smoking of a cigar, and in a Foghorn Leghorn voice would say, “I did not tell you that I was takin’ you to Tampa…what I said, my deah, was that I was gonna tampa with ya.” Mike never recalled where he originally heard the statement, and quite honestly, I have used it as my own for many years. I am at a point, however, where I need to give proper credit if possible.


Can anyone help? If so, I would appreciate it. If you have a quote of your own which needs sourcing and so far has eluded same, by all means, offer it up to those assembled. We are a helpful group here. Either way, Happy Thanksgiving to you, one and all, whether you visit here regularly or have stumbled upon us for the first time. I am thankful for you.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Reader Friday: Getting Away From It All

Sometimes you just have to get away. For an hour, a day, or maybe longer. Where do you go to get away from it all? What would be your dream getaway?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Calling For First Pages!

Just a housekeeping note today: We are interested in receiving more of your first page submissions for our monthly first-page critiques.

Here's how it works: Send us the first page (400 words max) of your manuscript in an email or as a Word attachment, along with the title, to the email killzoneblog at gmail dot com. We'll take the first 30 submissions we receive, then announce when we're accepting submissions again. The pages will be divvied up among the Zoners for review.We'll post the pages on recurrent Thursdays, along with a critique. Readers will be able to comment as well. Note: Critiques are done anonymously--writers'names will not be posted, and reviewers will not know who authored their assigned pages.


In years past we've had great fun doing this exercise! We're looking forward to reading some of your pages!

Note: And actually, we don't cut off the submissions at 30. It just takes us longer to get to 'em! ;)