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Mental Agility or How to Write Outside the Zone

busy bees
I think I’m like most writers when I say that I am obsessive by nature. If I have an idea or a story or a character that captures me, all I want to do is figure out how to write it and how to write it now. The drive is all-consuming. I lie awake at night sorting out plot holes. I daydream in the car about pieces of dialogue. I burn food while taking time to jot down the perfect metaphor. Actually, I burn food a lot, which is probably a metaphor for something else.

However, there's always that point where passion meets pragmatism. More and more these days, I find there are times I need to put one project aside in order to work on something else. Logistically it sounds easy, but motivation wise it can be hard. How do you regain that passion again when the timing is right?

In sports terminology, people talk about "being in the zone." That's the sort of magic ethereal spot where everything is clicking and an athlete is performing at a high level in a way that feels effortless.  There's nothing more enjoyable than writing "in the zone," but, similar to sports performance, most writing happens outside of it and that's what needs to be planned for.

Things that help me get back into a project:

1. rereading what I've already written. That probably sounds obvious, but starting back at the beginning and reading through can get some mental momentum going.
2. having a playlist or other sensory markers that are correlated with that piece of writing.
3. curating a collection of items or ideas that represent my inspiration for the project. These could be images, quotes, news articles, etc... I personally am not very visually inspired, but for those who are, Pinterest seems like a good tool.
4. outlining. Sort of. Too much feels like drudgery and responsibility and No Fun. Just the right amount gives me a sense of purpose.
5. writing a letter to myself about what my motivation for a project is and how I am connected to the idea on an emotional level.

What about you? Do you have any tips or ideas for how to reconnect with a writing project after putting it aside for a period of time?

Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie is the William C. Morris award-winning author of Charm & Strange, Complicit, Delicate Monsters, and The Smaller Evil.

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  1. I've tried a few of these, but I really want to try writing a letter to myself. I feel like that would do some good :)

  2. Mood music has always worked well for me, along with going back over my outlines and notes of where I want the story to go. You're right, it can be very difficult to get that passion back once it's been disrupted, but we just have to keep on trucking through.

    1. Yes, that perseverance is an important thing!

  3. Most the time, rereading over the "drawer-ed" WIP will spark the drive to work on it again. Then, the obsession kicks in to finish it.

    1. Yay for the finding the obsession again. I'm glad you've found what works for you!

  4. I love the idea of writing a letter to yourself. That's brilliant! I'm going to try that one for sure.

    Re-reading what I've already written sometimes works and sometimes totally backfires. If what I wrote sounds good or even decent, it works. But, more than likely in a first draft, it's not so good. Then it just discourages me. So I try to stay clear of this until I get the whole first draft done.

    1. Ah, thank you! I hope the letter writing is helpful. And yeah, I know what you mean about reading a not so great first draft. It can definitely be demotivating!

  5. Ooo, GREAT post. I've done all of these things to jump back in, so to speak--especially the rereading--and it really helps. It reminds your brain of why you love this, and makes you eager to pick it up even if you lapsed. And boy do I relate to the obsessive zone as well. :)

  6. Yes. To this. All of it. I'm a big fan of #1, 2, and 4. Great post!


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