Time to Add Zombies to Your Manuscript

We are midway through the month and many writers are pushing themselves toward their NaNoWriMo or CampNaNoWriMo goals. It might be just to write the 50,000 words to become a winner. Or maybe they're pushing themselves that much further to complete a full first draft within the span of one month. Regardless, it is roughly about this time of the month when many writers start to lose steam and they feel that their stories are running flat.

Time to add zombies.

It's an old saying, one that relates to how some writers deal with that age old problem called writer's block. Some writers will take the phrase literally and add flesh-eating monsters into their manuscript. Why not? This is NaNo. Anything can happen in our manuscripts. However, those monsters only suit certain genres and only a fraction of the stories in those genres at that.

No... The phrase "just add zombies" means much more than that.

If you are struggling to push your story forward, moving the characters into the next scene — if your feeling that your story is starting to drag — that's a sign that you have lost the tension of the story. It's time to change it up.

Adding plot zombies is about putting your characters into the worst scenario that you could possibly think of and letting things fall where they may. For a romance, that situation might be the kiss that shouldn't have happened and the girlfriend that walked in on it. For a thriller, it might be the bad guy has just escaped those bounds that you were so sure were tight as anything and now has a gun pressed to your temple. For a crime story, perhaps they found another dead body. And for that space opera, the ship has sprung a leak and if they don't find a way to seal it, all the air will be vented out into space — oh, and the gravity plating has just gone off-line.

But if you're suffering from writer's block, perhaps the issue really isn't your story. Maybe you're just trying to hard. Some writers will have plotted out every single inch of their novel. (If you've done this, you plotters know exactly who you are.) You may have found that you are trudging along quite happily, then the path is suddenly blocked and your characters are refusing to take the left fork in the road like you had planned. You keep forcing them that way, but they keep rebelling. The words are just not flowing like they once did. Did you ever stop to think that the path down the right fork is actually the more interesting one?

This is where the pantser has the advantage over the plotter. The characters want to take the right fork, so the pantser lets them and is just along for the ride. Meanwhile, the plotter is still trying to force their characters down the left fork.

gull-talk_annotated_rightvsleftPlotters, give yourself permission to deviate from your original plot. You never know what might happen.

However, pantsers suffer from writer's block too. The true blood pantser will just wait for inspiration to strike. They have no idea what they're going to write until they sit down and start writing. But sometimes inspiration completely eludes them. They don't even know where to start. (At least the plotters have a start point and an end point.)

The biggest advice I can give to anyone in this situation is to find a new place to write. Grab your notebook, or your laptop, and head out to the park, the beach, the local library, the nearest coffee shop... Maybe even the art gallery or the museum. It doesn't matter where you head, just as long as it's somewhere new. Watch the people going by. Watch the snail attempt to get across the sidewalk before it gets squished. These new environments just might be the inspiration you need.

(True story: One year, I was watching a sparrow as it soared through the air, only to be joined by another sparrow. Spring time. Mating season. My fingers suddenly started typing this whole scene where my main character shape-shifted into a bird and soared through the skies. Inspiration can come from anywhere.)

There are some other tricks that you can play to get yourself out of this writing slump. Maybe you need to turn your attention to another project. You may have had your heart set on writing a particular project, but if your mind is just not into it at that moment, then the writing will be forced and you will hate every inch of it. Writing is meant to be enjoyable. If one project is not doing it for you, open another. Writers often have multiple projects on the go. I, myself, have near on 20 different manuscripts that I'm working on, all in various stages of development.

Chip Challenge: Get some poker chips and write numbers on them. Place them in a bag by your favourite writing device. Every time you sit down to write, pull out a chip. That’s your session target.

Chip Challenge: Get some poker chips and write numbers on them. Place them in a bag by your favorite writing device. Every time you sit down to write, pull out a chip. That’s your session target.

Then again, maybe you are too focused on the big picture that you need to give yourself smaller goals. Even though with CampNaNoWriMo you can choose your own goals (word counts or hours), NaNoWriMo imposes a minimum 50,000-word-count limit. That can be a scary number, especially when you're in a writing slump. What you need to do is break that number up. Last year, I wrote about how you can use the chip challenge, where you have a small bag of poker chips, each with a different number on it. When you sit down to write, pull one out of the bag and that's your target.

Or maybe you're one of those that needs to sprint. Set yourself a timer and just go for it. Take a break, then do it again and see if you can get further than you did last time.

There are many different tactics to concur this common problem. Just remember that you're not alone. Remember that there is a big community out there of writers, all of us at different stages within our careers, but all of us there to support one another.

Perhaps you can share one of your favorite methods for getting the creative juices flowing in the comments below.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

Posted in General Advice, NaNoWriMo, Writing and Editing and tagged , , , .

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