Monday, March 21, 2016

Writer's Whiplash! ~ or ~ When Your Brain is Ripped out of "The Zone"

by Susanne "neck brace" Dietze

I'm guessing you've suffered from Internal Whiplash--not the physical kind you get from being in a car crash (although some of us have had that, too. Ouch!).

I'm talking the kind that takes place inside your head, when you're in what I call The Zone, doing one thing that requires all of your concentration (like writing a check) and then something happens which yanks you out of The Zone.

If you're like me, this didn't used to be a problem. You could multi-task, but now that you're older or a mom or whatever, your brain responds by going blank, and you're stuck in the no-man's-land of not thinking clearly about anything.

Can you relate?

Dont Panic, Panic, Button, Stress, Worry, Fear, Stop
There's "Oh Crud" Whiplash: You make mistakes that the Younger You would have scoffed at, like leaving your keys in the wrong spot because the phone rang when you entered the house.

There's Mom Whiplash: you're filling out the school emergency forms and someone asks you a big question, like about God and the Big Bang. You are ripped out of the Zone, struck dumb, and you can't even say, "just a minute." (Maybe, like me, you try to answer and fill out the form simultaneously like the Younger You could have, and you end up writing the name of the kid you're talking to on form. But it's the wrong kid.)

Maybe, if you're an author, you can relate to the kind of whiplash I have right now: Writer's Whiplash. 

When authors write, they get into the universe of their stories--aka The Zone. 

We know our characters. We are so deep into the stories that the characters take over and talk to us. Our fingers fly with ease. We--

(Rrrrrrip noise)
Blasting, Zone, 1000, Feet, Road, Information, Blast
Get ready, because something's about to explode!
What's that? An opportunity has arisen to revise and resubmit an old project, but it needs to be submitted NOW? You got it. Set aside Project A. Open Project B with a grateful heart. Realize that, while you're grateful, you are stuck, because these characters are NOT the characters who were forefront in your mind a half hour ago. These are totally different people, with fears and habits totally unlike anyone else's.

That is Writer's Whiplash. Getting yanked out of The Zone of one project to work on another, and find That Zone again. The brain doesn't cooperate like we want it to. Like we NEED it to!

I should note this is an excellent problem to have. It means a writer has opportunities, work to do, and maybe even interested editors. There is nothing to be pitied about the writer who suffers Writer's Whiplash.

That doesn't mean it's easy to get back in The Zone, however.

In the past 7 weeks, I've had the blessing and opportunity to promote two new releases (dipping my toes into The Zones of those stories when answering interview Q's and participating in FB parties) while working on aspects of five separate writing projects.

I didn't plan it that way, because who would do that? LOL. But that's how it unfolded.

Aside from the promotions, that's five romances playing out in my head. Five couples facing five sets of challenges in five different time periods. And keeping the characters separate? Ugh! I had a spy, mountain man, rancher, Scottish lord, and doctor for heroes. I'm like a Harlequin commercial. One hero even has a brogue! Ach, lassie, 'twas hard not to give it to the hero who followed him. I needed to get back into a Zone where folks said ain't and reckon.
Cowboy, Horse, Dog, Pasture, Western, Ranch, Ranch Land
You're a good pup, but darlin' Miz Dietze just called you the name she gave that Scottish terrier from the last story, and  made me say somethin' all Scottish, too. Do I look like a Regency-era laird? Bless her heart.
So if you're suffering Writer's Whiplash, how do you get back into The Zone of a project? Well, I found a few things that worked for me:
  • Take a minute. Or a whole day, if you have the time. Reacquaint yourself with the new (old) project whose Zone you need to enter. Remember who the characters are and why you like them, and why this story was important to you. Sometimes this is all it takes to get back into the Zone, but not always.
  • This is what worked for me the most: Start a playlist to go with each story. (Only if you listen to music when you write, of course.) When I was revisiting an old novel, I decided to listen to an album I'd enjoyed to when I originally worked on the story. The music triggered something in my emotional memory, and I found myself more quickly getting back into the emotional thread of the story! THE ZONE!!!
  • Start playlists that fit the emotional mood of particular scenes. I have a "gooshy songs" playlist that I listen to when I'm writing a scene with romantic longing. I have another playlist that is the soundtrack for the "we can't be together but I want to be with you" scenes .
  • If you're a visual person, use a storyboard on Pinterest. I set up mine so there are pictures of the scenery, actors who look similar to my characters, and includes any object that might be pertinent to the story. I do this so an editor or reader might get a fuller picture of the story, but you know what? It's also good for me when I need to get back to the Zone.
  • Tealight, Candles, Tea Lights, Wax, Christmas Time
    Not everyone likes smelly candles, but I do.
  • Light a candle when you write. A smelly one--or be conscious of what smells are around when you write a particular story. Smell is the quickest of the senses when it comes to memory triggers, and you're trying to trigger the memory of the mood, tone, and universe you inhabited when you were last in The Zone. So if you last worked on a particular story at Christmastime, it may not hurt to find something smelly that reminds you of Christmas. See if it takes you back to The Zone.
What about you? How do you handle Writer's Whiplash? I need all the advice I can get!


Susanne Dietze is back to writing one novella at the moment. In the meantime, she is the author of over half-dozen historical romances.You can visit her on her website,

All pics public domain.


  1. Goodness, this is such a problem. Especially when you have contracts to fulfill but the (unpaid) book of your heart keeps calling to you.

    But those are all great ways to get back into the zone. Thank you! :D

    1. Hi DeAnna! I struggle with getting into the Zone when I'm yanked out...and it just happened again! LOL. I think God is trying to teach me something...

  2. Oh yes. Ugh with a capital Uh. The older I get the worse it is. I love to be in the zone and not leave the zone. You can sort of function this way until those other characters need attention. I never thought of using candles, but I do change the music soundtrack! Good for you recognizing that having a lot of options means opportunities. Meanwhile, I'm having a hard time just understanding my extroverted heroine! Now there's a Zone I don't understand!

    1. Oh Deb, the extroverted heroine! What a puzzlement she is! That's a tough zone to get into, for sure. Does she lecture you? Some of my heroines get so bossy.


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