Tyler Durden’s Rules for Writing in the Zone, part 2

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Part 1 is here, for those who are so inclined.

“I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say…Let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may.”

Perfection is static.

Perfection is a finished state.

Writing fiction is a messy enterprise. It is a process. Like people, like life, it involves growth and change.

One of the requirements for entering the zone is having clear goals that are properly aligned with your skillset. Goals should be challenging but achievable.

Striving for too much too soon = giving up.

Remaining in the same place, because we enjoy the sense of mastery and take comfort in being “perfect” = creative paralysis.

It’s a bit like revising your first 60 pages over and over again instead of moving on and finishing the novel.

The zone – and I’m not talking about the comfortable kind — demands not perfection, but evolution. As we master the old goals only to set new ones that challenge us in new ways, we keep pushing past the edges of our comfort level.

We grow.

Growth is messy and awkward.

We fail. We make mistakes.

So what. Let the chips fall where they may. Failure is just another teaching tool. If anything, we should seek to fail as fast and as often as possible.

“People do it everyday, they talk to themselves…they see themselves as they’d like to be, they don’t have the courage you have, to just run with it”

Of course, pushing past our comfort zone and letting the chips fall where they may is easier said than done.

Robert Greene observes that when we become anxious, our natural instinct is to retreat to a place that is familiar and safe. A place where we don’t have to strive for anything or risk anything, including the illusions we like to nurture about ourselves (and our relationships and other people).

Real progress comes when we deal with reality as it is, stripped of ego and illusion.

Writes Greene:

As we get older we are naturally drawn outward, towards actions that will bring us power. This outer zone seems unfamiliar and unpredictable, but inviting.

At certain points of moving in this direction, however, we inevitably encounter a resistance or obstacle that triggers a fear–that of being alone, having to confront people and possibly displease them, making mistakes and being criticized, feeling bored and empty, dealing with change and possible adversity, losing what we have, facing death itself. At the instant we feel this fear we look backwards towards what is safe and comforting and move in that direction.

We do not explore or take risks. We react and retreat in a single line. We draw a circle around ourselves that cuts us off from power, one that becomes a kind of self-imposed prison.

Life naturally involves moments of pain and loneliness, battles and setbacks. To feel fear and retreat because of them is to struggle against life itself.

As conscious, rational adults, we are called to finally move past these childish illusions and fears, to embrace life and reality….Beyond the circle of fear, you have the freedom to experiment and be creative with your response.

For writers, there’s the anxiety of the work itself…and then the anxiety of showing that work to others. Anxiety triggers the “fight or flight or freeze” response that prevents us from achieving the relaxed, alert state we need in order to enter the zone.

If we’re to write in the zone, we have to put that anxiety aside. We have to accept that our work won’t be perfect, nor should we expect it to be. It just is what it is. And we are what we are.

We run with it. We roll with it.

We take the bad with the good, the criticism with the praise.

And we move forward.

— more tomorrow —

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Dec 29, 2009
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8 comments · Add Yours

“When I conceive it, it’s brilliant. Everything is true Chekhov, or Shakespeare: it’s great! And then, you start to work, and the truck with fresh compromises drives up every day.”
– Woody Allen

For me the work of writing is editing the words I put down on the page into prose that I’d actually want to read. No matter how much I may be struggling to write on any given day, I know that getting that first draft done will let me get to the next step.

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Greene’s observations have value, but I’d add that growth beyond our comfort zone need not be a straight line project. We can confront our fear, retreat to a safe place, regroup, then forge ahead again. Life, like writing, is a messy process.

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Agreed. I think that’s the sane route. :)

I had some issues with the “straight line” image myself — in my own experience it’s a zig-zag, looping kind of thing.

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I love to edit — that for me is the fun of writing.

First drafts are just — tough. They can feel like slogging through the seventh mile of a marathon knowing all the miles (and pain) still ahead of you.

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Thank you for this. Great post!

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I like these Fight Club-metaphorised ponderings on writing. Love the movie (one of my favourites), and I love writing. Cheers.

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these are some of the best posts on writing i’ve ever come across. thanks for doing this.

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“As we get older we are naturally drawn outward, towards actions that will bring us power. This outer zone seems unfamiliar and unpredictable, but inviting.
At certain points of moving in this direction, however, we inevitably encounter a resistance or obstacle that triggers a fear–that of being alone, having to confront people and possibly displease them, making mistakes and being criticized, feeling bored and empty, dealing with change and possible adversity, losing what we have, facing death itself.”

This is where I’m at right now. Moving out of my safety zone. Facing resistance. Overcoming the obstacles. And I am loving every minute of it. Please don’t let this feeling end! :)

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