I recently found a clip on Youtube taken from the concert film, The Song Remains the Same, a movie released in 1976 that featured the group Led Zeppelin. Filmed during three nights of concerts at Madison Square Garden.
The clip features the song Stairway to Heaven which has become a classic since it’s release in the early seventies. I grew up listening to groups like Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Boston, and The Eagles just to name a few. But this was the first time I even saw the guitar solo by Jimmy Paige halfway through the song, and I was blown away by what I saw.
In the close ups during his solo you’ll notice that Jimmy’s eyes are closed as he’s playing. He has transcended the mechanical melding of guitar and man, the song is not coming from the musical score in his head, it is no longer the act of metal strings being strummed while fingers move to the appropriate fret. This goes much deeper than that. In a sense he has become the song itself and what we hear comes from the depths of his soul. Jimmy has entered the zone. If you were to ask him what he was thinking about while he was playing, I’m willing to bet he wouldn’t be entirely sure himself.
Writers do the same thing when they create. During the initial phase of a story’s creation, after the spark that inspired it. To write that first draft the writer finds it necessary to venture in to the zone where all things become possible. In the zone there is no grammar, no punctuation, at least not consciously at first. That will come later, during the many rewrites to polish the story to a hard brilliance. No, during that first stage, the very first time a word intrudes upon the unblemished page, the writer infused with the fever of creation slips into that state of self hypnosis that Stephen King speaks about.
For some the ability to slip into the zone becomes second nature. As soon as they sit down at their work they enter that altered state. For others it is a struggle to find that quiet room in the mind where all things become possible. Here time has no meaning. The seconds, minutes, even hours pass unnoticed as the writer becomes wholly focused on that imaginary place they have created in their mind. Where the words flow like the waters of a swift moving river that passes through their consciousness. Dark, deep, and muddied by the swirling emotions that whisper across the page.
Only then is the writer at peace.