Friday, 7 December 2012

In the writing zone

Sports people talk about being in the "zone". It’s a term meaning they’re performing at their peak where everything flows smoothly and effortlessly. Being in the zone for a tennis player means consistently hitting their shots close to the lines, for a cricket player it means seeing the ball as if it is bigger than it actually is and for a ten pin bowler it’s being on a roll of strikes.

Likewise when we are in the writing zone everything is easy. The words flow onto the page with little effort, new ideas come from nowhere and the whole process becomes smooth and effortlessly. The story practically writes itself like being carried along by a river of revelation. Like John on the island of Patmos being told to write what he saw.

But what about the times when we are not in the zone?

Sports people have many strategies to help them find the zone: deep breathing, visualization, positive self-talk, more training, more relaxation. Yet despite all this they have to continue regardless of whether they are in the zone or not. They will even play through injuries or sickness. They continue, hoping to play themselves into the zone but in the meantime it may not be pretty. However they aim to put forward their best possible performance regardless of how they feel.

I remember reading something similar about Catherine Marshall. In the early days she wrote when she felt inspired and for pleasure. But when her husband Peter died, she had to write for a living which meant there were days when she had to write even though she felt uninspired. Likewise there are times when we may have to write regardless of our feelings.

I have a blog that I am committed to updating regularly but some days I don’t feel like it or can’t think of anything to write. Yet when I sit down in front of my computer and think about what has been happening in my life, surprisingly an idea, a thought appears. Though the article may be slow in coming and not particularly profound, the post gets written. As writers we have the advantage of the re-write so unlike sports people we can go back and revisit, revise and edit what we have done. Sometimes the surprise is that editing can turn our not so perfect writing into something special.

Do you have any strategies, routines or spiritual disciplines that help you find the writing zone?


Susan Barnes likes to write inspirational articles, book reviews, and reflections on Bible passages and regularly blogs at:


  1. Hi Susan,
    I've experienced both states, so I know what you and Catherine Marshall mean. I agree with you, that getting in the zone seems to be more like priming a pump than waiting for inspiration to strike. When we keep showing up, our imaginations don't get rusty. A more fun way to get those ideas running, I've found, is to read the novels of others and watch movies.

  2. I love your phrase 'river of revelation', Susan, to describe those times when our writing comes easy! I've certainly experienced that. I can't wait to start writing a new book next year (this year I have been busy editing the two I wrote the previous year!), but in the meantime, I discipline myself to write a weekly blog. Often when I think I have nothing to say, as you sometimes do, I just pray and ask God to show me what he's done in my life that week or what I need to write about. But then I need to sit and my computer and begin, in faith it will flow! Sometimes it's harder than others, but every time I'm glad I've made the effort as I always learn something myself from God in the process.

  3. Hi Susan - I think habit is really the key. If we keep plugging away, it does tend to keep the creative juices flowing, even if some days the flow is a trickle :) For Christian writing, I've also found that a regular quiet time is key. It's amazing how many ideas pop into my mind at those times even though I'm not specifically trying to think of them. I've gotten into the habit of jotting down any of those ideas in the back of my quiet time journal, and then when I'm stuck for inspiration, I go back and look through the list. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi Susan. Thanks for your great post. I am inclined to agree with Nola that the habit of writing regularly is great fuel to get into the zone as they say. I find that the more I write, the more the creativity flows.

    I carry around a notebook and write down an idea when it strikes me. So have many bulging notebooks but sadly not sufficient time to write all of them down. One day... I shall! :)

    Bless you for your thoughts.

  5. Thanks everyone for your thoughts.

    And yes, I agree, habit is important for keeping the writing flowing.