The Zone

Many writers, especially as they’re starting out, contend with The Editor Over The Shoulder. This phantom character can stop a story cold, drain all interest, and, despite it’s supposed role of improving prose, ruin what might have otherwise been perfectly good writing. If you’re fortunate enough never to have met this ghost, go have another cup of coffee and count yourself lucky; but if you have, here’s a trick that might dispel him or her once and for all.

This is merely an experiment, and you need only try it for one day. Imagine you have a Zone of Influence. This zone represents all that you have actual control over. There is a lot that is not inside this zone: tomorrow, yesterday, other people’s opinions, the weather, The New York Times (assuming you are not a member of its editorial board), agents, editors, readers. It’s a long list. Inside this zone, however, is what you are actually doing, who you are actually talking to, what you are actually writing.

For one day, make all those things outside your Zone of Influence off limits. This means not only can’t you talk about them, you can’t even think about them. This means no imaginary conversations, no thinking about what your writing group will say (because they aren’t saying it), no imaginary book signings—nothing. You will probably slip, but don’t worry. Just remind yourself that today you aren’t going to think about those things, and then move on.

This sort of technique is variously called mindfulness or living in the moment, but whatever it is called, it is a practice, a discipline. If you can practice taking your mind off all that you have no control over in your daily life, then when you sit down at your desk The Editor will be revealed for what he truly is: yet another expression of all that you believe you must control but cannot.

So give it a try.  And remember, it’s only for one day. Tomorrow you can go back to thinking about all those things outside your Zone of Influence. But perhaps you will discover the pleasure in not thinking about those things. After all, if you have no influence over something, all the thinking in the world isn’t going to change it, and so all that energy is spent making nothing. Turn that energy toward you can create, and you may be surprised by what grows.

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