A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Welcome to out monthly feature, Ask The Allsorts! This month, we asked, ‘What do you to to get in the creative ‘zone’ (and stay there)? This is what the Allsorts said…
Keris Stainton: I think it was Rachel Cohn who tweeted that she likes to sneak up on her WIP “from behind a cloud of music” and that seems to work for me too. So the first thing I do when I start a new book is make a playlist.
Rose Mannering: Diet pepsi is a writing must for me. I can live with diet coke, but diet pepsi is the real deal and I keep a stash of cans under my desk. If I’m up against a deadline then I can write anywhere and any way, (although the fizzy drink is still obligatory) but my preferred atmosphere is silent and clean. The easiest way for me to get into a creative zone is after a run/long walk with my dogs or at the end of a busy day, when I feel like I can relax and drift off into my book-world.
Zoe Marriott: For me, the best way to get into the creative zone is to follow a routine. It’s like I can trick my stubborn brain that way – fool it into thinking that this is a perfectly ordinary way to make a living and producing two thousand words on demand is no big deal. Look, brain, it’s 9:30 in the morning and we are in the Writing Cave. We have coffee, our hair is in a braid, and a certain song is playing on the iPod. That’s means IT IS TIME TO WRITE AND NO EXCUSES. Mush! Mush!
Of course, it doesn’t always work that way, and when I get really stuck I find it helps to go the other way and break with routine completely. Sometimes writing in the garden helps (providing it’s not snowing). Sometimes I go on a little daytrip on the train – for some reason getting on a train is a nearly infallible way to open my creative floodgates. Sometimes it’s just finding the exact right piece of NEW music, or switching notebooks. My brain is tricksy, so I have to be tricksy too, to get it to cooperate.
Sangu Mandanna: I usually flick on some moody music – either something off my current project’s playlist or a favourite writing song – and shut myself off in my own little world. To be honest I don’t normally need to do anything apart from that: once I’m in that zone, staying in it isn’t hard but getting out of it is almost impossible! Another favourite way of getting in the zone is doodling in a notebook or app. Brainstorming is always productive!
Abi Burlingham: I think being in the creative zone is a combination of looking outwards and inwards – looking outwards in that you let your surroundings, events and other people’s stories inspire you, and looking inwards in that you use these, combined with your own memories and vision, to fire those creative juices. The combination of these, for me, is all I need.
Imogen Howson: Coffee, reading the previous day’s work, starting off writing by hand if necessary. And, if all else fails, going out to a coffee shop and working against that quiet background buzz of other people’s lives.
Clara Vulliamy: I keep fairly strict working hours, and sit at my desk doing something at least – a doodle, a few sentences, some notes – rather than drift about waiting for creativity to find ME. And, however tempting, social media (like an attention-seeking pet) must wait OUTSIDE THE ROOM!
R.M. Ivory: I play cello music when I am writing my current novel The Locked Door because my protagonist plays the cello.
I play it really loud to start with, then once I have stopped editing and am moving on to fresh writing I turn it down.
After a while I can’t hear the music and when I stop writing I’ll suddenly realise that either the music has stopped or I have stopped listening to it.
If I come to a halt or am stuck for a moment I’ll put the music back on, or turn it up or play one of my two favourite tracks that I feel really sum up my protagonist.
For me music always helps. Of course it isn’t always cello music. I choose music that either suits the character’s mood, or that I think they would listen to themselves/play.
Elizabeth May: I find the best way to get myself in the creative “zone” is to turn on music that, in some way, resonates with the scene I’m trying to write. If I can continue to write while listening, I do that. But sometimes I listen just to put me in the mood, and then I need everything to be still and quiet as I type. If anyone interrupts the Still and Quiet, my concentration is entirely shattered. A mistake Mr. May has learned never to make again… 🙂
Dan Smith: How do I get myself into the creative zone? Interesting question. In terms of actual writing – putting words down on virtual paper – I’m easy to satisfy. I don’t need much more than to sit on the sofa and open my MacBook. Oh, there has to be silence. No music, no talking, no . . . well, no sound at all if possible. I’m OK with the odd car passing or maybe a dog barking in the distance, but that’s my limit. And coffee. There has to be coffee. And maybe a biscuit. So that’s sofa, MacBook, silence, coffee, biscuit. Yeah, that just about covers the writing part of the creative zone. But the rest of it? The thinking? That’s a different matter altogether. That part of being in the creative zone follows me everywhere. It means I sometimes hardly hear what people are saying to me. It means I lie awake at night and, when I finally fall asleep, I dream about my plots and characters. They spin about in my head when I’m walking my son to school, or eating breakfast or watching a film or driving to the supermarket. In my house, this zone has become known as Dan-World, and the difficulty is not getting into it, but getting out of it.
Bethany Straker: I have to make sure all animals are fed, chores are done and little annoyances are out of the way – if there’s anything hanging over me I can’t focus properly. Secondly, I have to choose just the right music. If it doesn’t fit my mood or my work it’s no good! I love a lot of genres of music. It’s sometimes difficult to create the right atmosphere so that I can start my working day, but once I’ve chosen the right album I don’t come up for air for a long time!
Roy Gill: I once heard Margaret Atwood speak. When asked what was ‘her greatest achievement as a writer’, after a moment’s thought, she said it was getting that moment of blind I-can’t-do-this terror down to a daily half hour.
I can relate to this! My first day writing in any given week always seems disastrous. My sentences are limp and my ideas go nowhere. By the end of the day I’m usually in a foul mood, utterly depressed, ready to give in – and never ever write another word. But here’s the odd thing: the second day is always, always better. After that first day chipping away, it’s like I’ve cleared the ground, and everything seems ready to flow.
So my tip is this: Have faith. Keep writing, for however long it takes to re-enter the ‘zone’. Realise and accept the bad days are just part of the process too – who knows what sneaky things your brain is up to in the background, while you quietly weep tears of despair? Persist! The next day is always better.
I’m aiming for half an hour…
Ian Beck: To be honest I am not sure I am ever out of the ‘creative zone’ it (ideas developments observations links notions) is/ are always bubbling away either on the front or back burner,depending on the urgency of delivery, so for me more a permanent state of mind than a zone.
Natasha Ngan: Treat writing like a job. If you don’t have a publishing contract to work towards, give yourself your own deadlines. Set aside time to sit down and write. Don’t wait for that creative feeling to arrive, just get started and it will find its way to you.
Liz de Jager: I get into the zone by popping on my generic writing playlist which is a lot of movie, game and placement music. I try and write as much as I can at home late at night after dinner and chat with my husband, but I find my zone seems to be before work, for around forty minutes, when I sit in Pret. I hammer out around a thousand words in that short space of time, and maybe again the same during lunch if I get the chance to take lunch. Time is of the premium to me so the luxury of faffing around and getting things set up just so is not an option for me – and I got into the writing habit of grabbing space and time where I can. And the thing is, once you get into that zone, it’s so difficult to break out of it, and face the mundane world again.
Janet Edwards: For the EARTH GIRL trilogy, I have a piece of ‘trigger’ music that puts me straight into the head of my main character, Jarra, sharing her thoughts and emotions.
Isabel Atherton: To get myself in the creative zone I will close my emails. My day job as a literary agent means I am constantly being bombarded with emails day and night, and without taking time out, I simply wouldn’t have the time or the energy to focus on my own personal projects, such as my children’s picture books. I find walking by the sea helps clear my mind of silly little worries and daily stresses. I always carry a notebook and pen with me in case inspiration strikes. When I have a rough idea of a character and plot I will settle down with lots of tea and make notes and work on the book’s structure. I’ll keep tweaking and polishing until I am finally happy with what I have produced.
Kate Ormand: If I’ve got anything else to do, I get it all done and out of the way before I sit down to write so that nothing else is playing on my mind. I read some of what I wrote the day before to get back into the world, then I’m good to go. Staying in the zone depends on how easily the words are coming. I get distracted if I’m having a hard day. On these days, I set myself times for little breaks, which works well for me.
C.J. Flood: There’s nothing fancy or mystical. Once I know what I’m doing, and actually have a story to tell, I just make myself a cup of earl grey with honey and milk, sit at my desk, and open the document. I write for 45 minutes using Freedom so I can’t check the Internet. Then I check the Internet. Repeat three or four times on a good day. On bad days or if I don’t know what the story is, I play table tennis or see friends or read or just do the Internet part of a good day, all the while feeling really, really guilty.
Candida Harper: I don’t really know how to get into the creative zone. I can tell you that searching for toys I had as a child on Ebay, eating a whole packet of chocolate fingers and watching Diagnosis Murder have never really helped. But one day that’s got to change. So I keep trying.
Helen Douglas: I have a routine. Make a cup of tea, shut the door to my office and read a chapter of whatever book I’m currently reading (not my own book) while waiting for my desktop to power up. Then read through yesterday’s work and jump right in.
Sharon Jones: How do I get into the creative zone? Hmmm… Not sure I’ve cracked that one yet. Most of the time I feel like I’m working in the procrastination zone. Probably the best thing I’ve learnt is that I need a to write a list before I can write a scene. I know it’s boring, but I find if I think through what I want the scene to achieve and turn that into a checklist, I spend less time rewriting and worrying about where I’m going.
And as for me? I find starting early in the day is best, before my mind has had time to get cluttered up with All The Things I Have To Do. I make coffee, switch on the laptop and dive in. And if I really get ‘in the zone’ and hit my wordcount before lunch, it means I get the rest of the day off to play!
Emma Pass grew up at an environmental studies centre near London, went to art school in Cornwall and now lives in the North-East Midlands, UK, with her artist husband. For 3 wonderful years she was lucky enough to share her life with The Hound, too (that’s him in the picture). She is represented by Carolyn Whitaker at London Independent Books and her YA dystopian thriller ACID is out now from Corgi/Random House in the UK, and will be released in the US on 1st April 2014. You can find her blog here, view her website here and catch her procrastinating on Twitter here.
So how about you? Tell us how you get into the creative zone in the comments below!