Reigning In The Twilight Zone

Yesterday, the impossibly evil James Moran blogged it the hell up, on the subject of his writing process.  If you haven't read it yet, and think you're getting the link right now then you're insane, because I want you to read this post first.  You'll get the link at the end, now settle yourself and commit.  No speed-scrolling down!  I'm not some cheap word-hooker you can skim before linking off into the night.

One of Moran's passages particularly thrilled me (oh dear God, what's the matter with you people?)...

"The best thing about having the outline worked out so clearly is that it lets me go really fast. So fast, in fact, that I don't have to stop to think - my brain goes into that slightly disengaged, slightly zoned out mode, that lets the words flow and the characters say things before I've even worked out what they're going to say. Obviously it's still me thinking up the words, but it makes it feel like some weird magic is afoot."

He's talking about what I think of as The Twilight Zone.  It is, without question, one of the very best places to be in the world.  

When you hit The Twilight Zone while scripting (or prose-ing, or drawing, whatever) the pages fly out of you like glorious eagles.  You lose awareness of the world.  Times flies, or freezes, or something.  I have no idea what it does.  In truth, it probably ticks along as usual.  All that matters is that the script is hurtling, zooming and you are focused without even trying.  It's like a trance.  Like being at the eye of a tornado, where it's quiet.

For me, it lasts maybe an hour at a time.  Hard to tell.  Certainly doesn't happen every day.

Like Uncle Jimbo Moran, I listen to music while writing.  Some people don't, or can't, do this.  For me, the trick is to play music with which you're very familiar.  That way, your brain needn't waste any of its precious reserves concentrating on these strange new sounds.  

Reign In Blood, the seminal 1986 thrash metal album by LA veterans Slayer, is my favourite ticket to The Twilight Zone.  It's not so suitable if I'm writing comedy, but it sure provides the ultimate backdrop for horror and all things adrenalin-fuelled.  The album is a mere 29 minutes in length.  29 amazing minutes of caffeined-up hyper-metal, awash with Satanic, murderous lyrical imagery.

I'm certainly not suggesting Reign In Blood as your own Scriptwriting Album, unless, like me, you've lived with the album since its release.  I feel like I haven't properly listened to the record for years, though, as it's almost always churning away in the background while I'm in that Zone.  I'm dimly aware of the opening track Angel Of Death screaming blue murder... and then the Zone becomes all... until the closing torrential rain sound FX of Raining Blood's final few seconds brings the album to a close.  Throughout, the album has been psyching me up, driving me along, making me type faster, but I haven't been consciously aware of it at all.  In fact, it seems to zip by in a heartbeat.

It's wonderful.  Wondrous.

If you're already acquainted with The Twilight Zone, then I'm very happy for you.  Isn't it great, etc.  If not, you owe it to yourself to find yours.  Music may have nothing to do with your method.  Maybe your own Zone lurks in an entirely silent void, in that golden hour before the kids come home from school.  Maybe you'll find it in the mysterious hiss of white, green or brown noise (you can download some free white noise files here) or the trickling thrum of a rainforest or other ambient environment (also at that link).  You might even enter The Zone in your local cafe, when the chatter of those around you becomes a blur and the creative centres of your brain shift into pin-sharp focus.

Of course, The Zone isn't just about your environment and sounds.  It's about preparation.  If you've devoted hard thought to your characters and story, then your brain is free to create the finished product. In the same way that it shouldn't be distracted by new music, it shouldn't be distracted by having to make decisions which you should already have made, regarding plot, character, story, everything.  Every time your brain has to switch gears to re-examine the blueprint and fill in structural gaps, the spell is broken.

Just like most other writing methodologies, it's also about what works.  Find whatever works.

How do you enter The Zone?  Tell me with a Shriek From The Abyss, aka 'a comment', below.

You are now at liberty to head over to James Moran's post on his writing process.  If you've stolen any of my blog-ornaments while here, don't try to sell them to him or anyone else - they carry special UV watermarks.  Leave them on my doorstep at midnight, no questions asked.  Good day to you.

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Rob W said...

Inspiration, and no music. TV's okay, chatter's okay, but I tend to find music just applies a time limit to the Twilight Zone. Not to mention, I'll need to find something that suits the mood and atmosphere of the piece, and I'll probably find one perfect track and twelve tracks that sort of fit, and by the time I've fussed over the playlist I've forgotten what I was going to write. Can't do it. Doesn't work. Drives me nuts. And I can't really listen to songs on repeat, either. Much less an album.

Inspiration's a big one, though. I find I'm better at this when writing to a story doc of some sort - but as soon as I've got a couple of scenes coming alive in my head, the glue between them comes a lot easier; more or less filling in the gaps as I go. And the best way to poke the inspiration particles into doing their thing is... taking a shower!

Seriously. Had so many good ideas in the shower that it's become my go-to place for inspiration. As far as I can tell, it's 'cos in the shower:

a. I've not got anything else to do, so if something's on my mind I'll be constantly turning it over, cooking it nice and evenly, solving problems both consciously and subconsciously.
b. I'm a safe distance away from the keyboard. If I have an idea at the computer, I just note it down immediately and stop thinking about it. If I have an idea in the shower, I have to keep thinking about it, and so not only does the idea gain more and more shape and come under closer scrutiny than a line in evernote might, but it builds up that urge to write. It's like trying to suppress a sneeze - and by the time I'm out of there, I'll be dashing to the computer, leaving a trail of wet footprints in the carpet.

So that's how I farm inspiration. If I'm sat there, and nothing's taking the right form, I have a coffee, go take a shower, and hopefully come back tapping like a whirlwind. If I know I'm going to be writing on a particular day I'll actually hold off having a shower so as not to waste too much water, 'cos I know at some point I'm going to need a break, and I know that the shower is the most productive - precisely because it's my portal to the twilight zone!

Which is almost a script in itself.

CAM said...

Totally agree - no music - and, whilst showering can indeed be a twilight zone, I find I can't dwell there too long without the prune factor kicking in! Washing up can also be twilight-esque and dare I say, the occasional boring motorway journey - but that's none too safe really when you're driving!!

Robert Dee said...

No music. I do my morning pages (thanks Julia Cameron!) first to get myself flowing. Always write first draft long hand in treasured journals.

Robin Burks said...

I like to write in quiet, though - no music and other distractions.

I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time last year and I just wrote non-stop for an hour and it was a stream of consciousness sort of thing. I had an outline, so knew where I wanted the story to go, but I ended up with a completely different end to the story than I had initially anticipated. It was such a freeing experience that I'll probably participate every year now.

Darren Goldsmith said...

Can do music or no music. Really don't want to fall into the 'lucky underpants' trap. Once you're in the zone you don't hear, see, or smell anything anyway.

It's like astral projection, or something. You're in a kind of story space, the physical body a remote entity. Good job we don't need to think about breathing...

Ben Dutton said...

Sometimes music, sometimes not. Depends on the script. Usually the tactic is start the music, start the writing, then I usually silence the music after a while - I don't need it, I'm in my zone.

I do a lot of mental preparation whilst showering as well - I think the zero interuptions in there help focus me.

As to music - I wrote one whole script with Kid Rock Bawitdaba on repeat - just that one song, over and over - sometimes 20, 30 plays a day. For a week. I don't think I ever heard it all the way through, I was too much in the zone to care, but I needed it there, like a heartbeat.

Dead Can Dance's Seraphim's Song had a similiar use for another script.

Whatever the music it does need to be something I know instinctively - it can't be new. It has to be an old treasured friend.


I definitely need music. Generally film scores, something that matches the different moods of what I'm working on. When I was writing novels, I'd choose a particular album and play it on a loop, over and over. John Barry's Dances With Wolves was my first. The Low symphony by Philip Glass. Michael Nyman's The Piano. James Newton Howard's score for Sneakers. After that, they all started to blue together...

Soundtrack for my current project [a supernatural chiller] is the Jane Eyre score by Dario Marianelli and Michael Danna's music for Moneyball. The latter ends with a long, apocalyptic guitar instrumental by This Will Destroy You, but it fits the mood nicely.
[Anything by Explosions in the Sky is good for that, too.]

John Higgs said...

White noise - that's the ticket.

Anonymous said...


Agree that music is a good pathway to the 'Zone.

Bizarrely, while writing a sci-fi script, I found a single song: Kate Bush's Experiment IV (on a loop) propelled me into the 'Zone faster than you can sing 'An experiment in sound..."