Getting in the zone


Immersing yourself in writing can produce great results

I’m a great fan of Kazuo Ishiguro and I was delighted when he won the Nobel prize for literature earlier this year. He’s a wonderful writer in all sorts of ways but I particularly admire the way he takes on a convincing voice in his novels, completely immersing us in the viewpoint of the central character.

In an article in The Guardian (Saturday 6th December 2014) Ishiguro describes a novel solution to his problem of not having enough time to write:

I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we [he and his wife Lorna] somewhat mysteriously called a “Crash”. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.

It worked! At the end of four weeks, Ishiguro had produced the first draft of ‘The Remains of the Day’ which went on to win the Booker prize. Not bad for a month-long stint.

Not all of us can free up a period of time this long to write, but perhaps we can glean something from Ishiguro’s experience. I’m particularly intrigued by his comment that he, ‘reached a mental state in which [his] fictional world was more real to [him] than the actual one.’ Whatever time we can carve out for our writing, we need to make it as productive as possible: if we can immerse ourselves in our fictional world, and we are more likely to do this if it's vividly and authentically written, then we can use that experience to produce our best writing. It’s a good idea to switch off access to social media, put our mobile phones on silent, ignore emails. Then all we can do is write. We might be surprised what we can produce.