26 March 2021

The Zone can be elusive

In October 2017, I put up a post here entitled In The Zone, where I spoke about The Zone, a sort of Twilight Zone, a separate existence, a Zone where I wrote stories and novels with such focus the story flowed like a swollen river.

My wife bought me a T-shirt which read: Poor Listener. It had taken her a white to realize I wasn't listening to her because she talked too much, I wasn't listening because I was somewhere else. I was in The Zone.

The pandemic changed so many things, including making The Zone elusive to me for the first time. The scenes still play out. I still watch and listen to the characters but the distraction of living in fear keeps intruding. I still daydream but they are shorter and grow unfocused. At least I know it and can bear down and still write but I miss The Zone.

When I wrote my epic historical novel BATTLE KISS (320,000 words) and the follow-up USS RELENTLESS (234,000 words) I could step in and out of The Zone at will and everything was there.

The deaths (relatives, former co-workers, old friends) take a toll.

OK, the vaccines are here but every time I go out so many people, too many people, are unmasked and not following distancing protocols. It's frustrating.

So I rarely leave the house, which should help me to enter The Zone. And I do, but not as easily. The election took a lot out of me, the great anxiety fearing we were slipping into a fascist state.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I don't see it yet, but it has to be there.

The lessons I learned when I started writing have taught me how to narrow my focus and to keep writing, no matter what. I hope beginners listen to the lessons we sometimes give here on SleuthSayers. I learn something new here all the time.

Y'all take care. Gotta go Zoning.



  1. O'Neil -- You're right, the Zone doesn't seem to be as easy to slip into as it once was. The good thing is, your stories are as good as ever, so whatever you're doing is working. Keep at it!

  2. Hang in there. Your Gibson Girl story in the AHMM Mar/Apr 2021 was a good one.

  3. I've felt exactly the same way for much of the last year, and even with the vaccines and the sense of hope they've brought, our uncertainty about what the new world will look like continues to be a massive distraction. I appreciate you sharing this, because knowing that other people are experiencing it is certainly helpful.

  4. We've all been there - both when the Zone is real, and when you can't find it with both hands and a drink. Thanks for a good post.

  5. Thanks for the remarks, y’all.

    To all SleuthSayers and SMFS writers. I haven't commented about your stories in recent AHMM and EQMM and BLACK CAT and anthologies I purchased recently because I’m so far behind in my reading. It’s no secret but I’m on this year’s Shamus Award Committee for Best Hardcover PI Novel and there are a lot of books to read. Awards like the Shamus are big time serious business so we take reading and evaluating the books carefully.

  6. All my sympathies - I read for the Edgars one year, and I thought the books were NEVER going to stop coming. Read some great, great stuff, though. (Also some dreck, but we won't go into that.)

  7. That is a powerful point, about the practice of writing teaching us how to narrow our focus. What a valuable lesson. I call it 'compartmentalizing', and never quite realized that perhaps my need to meet deadlines has made me better at the whole focus thing. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.


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