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

Make Goals Public and Real

Recently, I have had some of my writing buddies getting all depressed because they had set themselves some goals for last year that they failed to achieve. The Little Miss Optimist in me is forced to come in and reminded them of all the things they have achieve instead. It’s that silver-lining view, but so many forget to use it.

Sometimes it’s a knock back to see that massive goal that you had set yourself come crumbling down around your ears. However, that goal was set for a reason. Without it, you wouldn’t spend the time necessary to turn that goal into a reality. And sometimes, you might have actually achieved your goal, but just not in the way you had expected.

I’ll use my own goal from 2015 as an example. At the start of 2015, I had publicly told all my friends and family that by the end of the year I was going to have a publication plan for my fantasy novel. I even posted it on my Facebook. At the time when I posted it, I had meant that I was going to find an agent and have a publishing contract, knowing that it took months from the point of signing that publishing contract before you saw the book on the shelves. However, I said “have a publication plan.” What I didn’t realise was that I actually had completed that goal the moment I posted it on Facebook, and it took me an entire year, and some, to figure that out. I have a publication plan for my novel: find an agent and get a publishing contract. It may not have been exactly what I had intended when I first set that goal, but it is still the goal achieved. Silver-lining view.

Always keep that big dream in mind, but make your goals the stepping stones toward that big dream.

More often than not, those big dreams are life-time ambitions and can’t be achieved in a single day, or a single year. However, there will be small steps along the way that will be necessary to make that big dream become a reality. Make these your goals.

For me, my big dream is to publish not just one book, but many books. So my goals for the past so many years have been about completing that draft, finish that edit, send out that query. But this works for more than just writing. One of my personal goals involves weight-loss. So toward that end, I’ve found a public fun-run that I want to take part in during October and am working hard to get my fitness up so I can do it. It’s all about cutting that giant horse-pill into smaller pieces easier to swallow.

Whatever your goals are, make them public.

Making goals public will do several things:

  1. It will force you to phrase your goals in such a way that you feel that you can actually achieve them.
    • It’s the stepping-stone approach. “Small steps for man.” We may have big dreams, but more often than not, we’re afraid that people might laugh at our big dreams, so we’ll test the waters with something smaller. Achieving those small goals is an accomplishment too.
  2. It will hold you accountable.
    • After I had posted my 2015 goals on Facebook, I felt this sense of obligation to do my best to make things happen. While I achieved only half of my list, I actually achieved so many others things that weren’t on the list too, including starting up my own editorial business, something that I never thought I would do.
  3. It will give you a secret support network.
    • People, in general, want to see their friends succeed. They’re even happy to cheer on complete strangers toward achieving their goals. Having that added cheer section does help fuel your ambition.
  4. It will give you bragging rights when you actually achieve your goals, listed and not listed ones.
    • Let’s face it, we humans are prideful creatures. We like to feel rewarded for our efforts. Sometimes, all the reward we want is a simple thank-you, and other times we’re after something more. Anyone who says that they don’t get a buzz after achieving something… They’re lying. Either that, or they’re not human.
My Own Goals for 2016

I have already publicly announced by goals for 2016 on my Facebook page. However, I’ve decided to reiterate them here, just so there is a true public record that I can easily find at the end of the year when I go back and see how far I’ve come. However, I’ve had to modify them, because as I was writing this post, I noticed that some of them have already been achieved, just not in the way that I had expected when I wrote them.

  1. Finish the final lot of edit on my fantasy novel and start querying again.
  2. Get in place a publication plan for my first novel. This includes snagging myself an agent. (With the way this is actually worded, I’ve already achieved this. I have a publication plan, and it does include snagging myself an agent. Doh!!! Not quite what I had meant.
  3. Finish the first draft of the first novel in my collaborative writing project (an upper middle-grade, military science-fiction with my good writing buddy, Ann Bell Feinstein) so the long tedious process of editing can begin.
  4. Get the word out about Black Wolf Editorial Services and obtain more clients.
  5. Obtain more inspirational art by Andrei Kope.
  6. Finish the first draft of my second high-fantasy novel. (Possibly the third and fourth too, seeing as they are mostly written anyway.)

I’m sure there’s something missing off that list, but even so, there’s a significant amount of work in that list. 2016… Bring it on.

P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter or Facebook.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016