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Getting into The Zone

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The hardest part of the writing process is to get into The Zone. The Zone is a state of mind where I’m in the world of the story, completely detached from my surroundings and inside the heads of my characters. It’s perfectly possible to write a competent, professional, entertaining story without getting into this state of mind, but for me the magic starts when you cross over that line. You can almost hear a click when it happens and the words and images start to flow.

There are some writers who can work fixed hours. They sit down at 9am and they write until mid-day, take a break and start again. I have no idea if they have their own zone they go into, which they can switch on and off. If so I envy them. Personally I don’t think it’s that easy. There are writers I respect and enjoy who have off months and I would guess those books were written to deadline and outside of The Zone. I’ve done it myself on a couple of books where I lost control of the creative process and the scripts ended up joining the dots with no real heart. I hope it won’t happen again, but it probably will, because this is a profession as well as a creative art.

The purest comics are usually independent productions. There are bad independent comics too of course, but the best of them are superb. And you can tell they were all written and drawn in The Zone. The Hernandez Brothers, Charles Burns, Chester Brown. These guys never send a page to the printers that doesn’t come from the heart. Who knows how many pages were torn up because they didn’t make the grade? There have been a few creators out there who lived in the Zone. Every line Jack Kirby ever drew came straight from that creative dimension. Robert Crumb lives permanently in a parallel world. His writing and drawing are direct expressions of something the rest of us can’t see. His life is his art.

But for most of us, I repeat, this state of mind is bloody difficult to achieve. Ideally you need unbroken silence. That means an empty house, no phone-calls and no-one knocking at the door. I’ve already had the postman and the Jehovah’s Witnesses inviting me to meet Jesus this morning and it’s only ten-thirty. I can understand why Brian K. Vaughan writes at night. Over a decade ago, when I was writing Strange Embrace , I could do that.  I would start at around 11pm and carry on writing until I was too tired to think. Then sleep until the afternoon. Try doing that with a kid in the house! I also used to drink and chain smoke while I wrote, two other habits I’ve given up. But there was never any problem getting into the Zone. Night was for the creative part of the writing. The daylight hours were for tidying up the work, the editorial process.

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeNow it all has to be done during the day, except for the occasions when the deadline is approaching and I have to stay up until it’s finished. I like to avoid that by staying ahead on books, but this last week life intervened. My partner had to go to France while her father was in hospital having an operation. That left me looking after our son full-time, doing all the housework, cooking, shopping, helping Alex with his homework. All the things we normally share. It was also a week when the work began to stack up. With the launch of Strange Embrace rapidly approaching, there were bits and pieces of writing to do for the web site, artwork to scan. The final draft of the script for Silent War #4 had to be written up to go to the letterer, there was an interview for Comic Book Resources and a pitch to revise. This is not the pitch I mentioned last week. That was secret project A. This is secret project B. Secret project A is inches away from being green-lit. Secret project B needs some revisions but things are looking good. Then there is secret project C, which has an editor behind it and is about to be submitted to the first editorial meeting, where it will be nixed or approved for further development. It’s frustrating not to be able to talk about any of these. The one pitch I can mention is one for Vertigo called Amelia Loves You. That one was rejected. Not a huge surprise. I’ve been there a few times with Vertigo. Amelia Loves You is a good idea so it goes on the stack of ‘Projects I’ll get around to doing as a creator-owned book when I get the time’.

So, the Zone. I really needed to get into it because Silent War #5 was needed pretty fast and I still didn’t have all the scenes pinned down. I knew what was going to happen, but I wasn’t seeing it through the characters’ eyes yet. And the interruptions kept on coming. Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed that his poem ‘Kubla Khan’ was interrupted by a ‘Person from Porlock’ who detained him for an hour. When Coleridge went back to his room to resume writing, he found the remainder of the poem was lost forever. He should have worked at night.

Click to enlarge

Now I can tell you that the script did get finished, but it went way past my schedule and that has left everything else piling up on me. It also meant a few late nights that left me exhausted and ratty as hell. But the week did have its highlights. Tuesday was my birthday. I worked until the small hours Monday night and I completely forgot. But Tuesday morning Alex woke me singing Happy Birthday, and presented me with a huge chocolate birthday cake, with candles and all.

The only downside was, he did it at 6 am.

Featured art by Hans Steinbach for Poison Candy, coming this summer from Tokyopop.

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