I find, for me, there are two writing zones: that fabulous zone where you’re in the story, channeling the characters and it’s all good, and then there’s a zone where you can put words on the page, but you’re more of an observer. Maybe the kids are fighting, your day job’s stressful, a loved one’s sick or your husband’s being an ass, but you’re just not able to get in your characters’ heads. If you’ve been writing a while, you may not analyze it, but you know when you’re in that zone.
That zone shows up the worst, for me, in the dialogue. Fortunately, it’ll be there waiting to be punched up when you can get into that deeper zone. Because I hand-write a lot, I have some examples from my own work I’ll share.
From Becoming Miss Becky: (there’s going to be a gunfight and the sheriff returns to the Chicken Coop only to find most of the town there)
That last line has all the impact of a string of waterlogged spaghetti, and wasn’t Adam at all. At a later time, when in the right zone, I went through and tinkered with Adam’s dialogue:
Another example, from Twice Upon A Roadtrip: (Jill and Ethan are alone in a dark parking lot and she heard a noise)
Oh gee, that’s some exciting dialogue, huh? When it came time to edit, I drew on my own experience of being a New Hampshire girl heading south to Florida. What don’t we have in NH I was afraid of as I went further down the map?
The moral of the story: If you’re honest with yourself during your process, you know when it’s flat—when you’re not deep in the zone. Don’t settle for the words you put on the page the first time through. Work for the right ones.