People talk about the zone all the time. Especially us creative types, but it's concept has been covered to include such mundane activities like eating and watching TV.
So what exactly is the zone and how do you get in it?
The zone is a place where you just seem on. It's like focus, but everything seems to be going your way. The wind is behind your back and nothing can stop you from doing what you need to do. Not only that, nothing seems to be in your way. You anticipate your opponent's moves 2-3 steps ahead. Distractions are a blur.
Or so the theory goes.
I disagree. As a writer, I find I do my best writing when I get in the zone. Unfortunately, some days are hard. Very hard. I'll sit staring at a blank screen and everything I put on to the page stinks. I'll erase and criticize and second guess myself.
But that's the very key to the zone. Because being in the zone is the opposite of being out of the zone.
When I'm out of the zone, I'm negative. I'm focusing on why what I write stinks. I focus on what's wrong with my writing. When I'm in the zone, it's not that my writing is perfect. It's filled with grammatical and spelling errors. Some ideas just stink. But I save that for the editing phase.
As I mentioned earlier, being in the zone is about focus. It's a highly specialized kind of focus. Think of it like Henry Ford's assembly line. Each worker had only one job. And he did that repeatedly. It was almost a zen-like experience. That worker eventually got so good at that job, he could do it with his eyes closed. That's being in the zone. Imagine if not only that worker had to worry about bolting each door to the chassis, but had to worry about welding the chassis in the first place as well as building the engine and the rest of that car too. And then on top of it, had to figure out what he did wrong, assuming the further responsibilities of Quality Control. All at the same time.
It's not that he could not do it or would do a bad job. He just would not be very efficient at his job. And it would be a very stressful and frustrating experience.
Being in the zone means focusing on the task at hand. Worry about Quality Control later. Instead, do what needs to be done. When I'm in the zone writing, I don't worry if my work is good or bad, if the words are spelt right (I intentionally left this mistake in) or if I have commas in the right places. That's Quality Control's job. And while I also do Quality Control on my own writing, I save it till I'm actually done writing. Instead, I focus on getting out the ideas in my head, spelling mistakes, bad grammar and punctuation, and lame ideas as well. When I'm writing, there are no bad ideas. They're all good. Great even. Being in the zone is about positivity and a sense of superiority and trust. Positive that everything I write is good, that my judgment and what I put out is superior to all ideas I've had in the past and will have in the future, and trust that what I'm putting out now is the best I can do.
Then I go back and separate the good from the bad later.
Here's the cool thing about being my own quality control. It forces me to learn from my mistakes. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. And I'm able to look back over my own work and see what I like and what I don't. This sticks with me. It influences me over time, teaching me good grammar and spelling so I make fewer mistakes in the future. This allows me to focus on the ideas instead of the language or medium.
This does not mean I don't make mistakes. It just means mistakes don't slow me down. I'm so focused on the idea and not worried about how well I'm getting the idea across because I know when it comes to Quality Control, editing, or whatever you want to call it, I can handle my mistakes.
The key to being in the zone then is not avoiding mistakes or being 2-3 steps ahead of your "opponent" but to simply not let them hinder you instead. Contrary to the popular belief that in the zone there are no mistakes, it's a state of mind that comes from experience and confidence in your ability to handle any problems that come your way. It only seems like there are no obstacles, that there are no mistakes, because the part of your mind that's responsible for dealing with them is turned off.
The next time you find yourself struggling, ask yourself what are you worried about that is Quality Control's responsibility. Then wave bye-bye to it as you shut that portion of your brain off.
Being in the zone isn't about being on. It's about shutting off everything that's inessential.