Today I wrote twenty pages (5k words) for my new novel. Last weekend, I wrote the same amount on both Saturday and Sunday. I’m as surprised as anyone that I can crank out that number of pages in a day, and even more surprised that I’m happy with the quality of the writing.

But that’s the discipline that seems to work best for me – crouching over the computer for an entire day, rather than writing in fits and spurts. When I spend eight to twelve hours immersed in the story, I can separate myself from reality and live the life of my characters, seeing the world through their eyes.

In Bag of Bones (my favorite of all his books – if you haven’t read it, do!), Stephen King calls this “getting into the zone,” which is a good description of how it feels. And it’s only when you’re in “the zone” that the characters really take on a life of their own.

The first time I experienced this was in my first novel. One of my characters knocked on the door of an inn. I’d planned for the innkeeper to be an elderly man, not realizing at the time that I was falling into a stereotype. But to my surprise, the door opened to reveal a completely different character than the one I’d planned on. He ended up contributing a whole new angle to the story, mostly because he was a bit of a slimeball who made an excellent suspect.

Much as I love writing, it’s often hard work. If you’re going to finish a novel, you can’t wait for inspiration to strike; you have to park your butt in the chair and set your hands on the keyboard and work whether you want to or not. But when that door opens to reveal the unexpected, you become as absorbed in the story as any reader, because you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s when fiction writing goes beyond craft and discipline to become magic. And that’s what makes it all worthwhile.