Reel Story: Beware The Writer Zombies

By Corey Mandell

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Beware: The world is full of writer zombies seeking to destroy your chances of screenwriting success.

Real zombies — if movies and TV shows are to be believed­ — are easy to spot. They don’t walk, they lurch.  They hiss.  They have terrible skin.  Writer zombies, on the other hand, don’t possess such noticeable characteristics and are thus able to blend in — that’s part of what makes them so perilous. It’s entirely likely you may be friends with one and not know it.  Or there’s one in your writing group or class (for reasons I’ll explain later, writer zombies love taking classes).  In fact, you might be one yourself.

writer zombiesWriter zombies are folks who see themselves as writers even though they don’t actually write.  At least not on any kind of regular basis.  Which means they aren’t really writers because, simply put, writers are people who write.  But writer zombies refuse to give up and accept failure, leaving them in a state of limbo.  They aren’t alive (they don’t write), but they also aren’t dead (they don’t quit).

Most writer zombies don’t realize they are the undead.  Because they do just enough to convince themselves (and others) that they are actual writers.  They talk a lot about writing — boy, are writer zombies great talkers -­- going on for hours about the screenplay or pilot they’re supposedly writing or will write once they have the time.  They also read writing books and blogs and take seminars because that makes them feel like they are in the game.  And they take classes, especially those that impose short-term deadlines, because that gets them writing, which makes them feel alive.  But once the class is over, they almost always go back to their zombie ways.

How do people become writer zombies?

Many have been tragically infected with a virulent strain of the victims virus, rendering them incapable of taking responsibility for their situation.  Instead of figuring out the root causes of their non-writing and taking the necessary steps to remedy it, they hide behind an endless parade of excuses.

Their schedule is too busy to afford any real writing time right now.  They can’t figure out their story.  They need to do more research.  There’s no point in writing a script right now because the industry sucks, and the spec market is dead. They are too old to break into the business.  They don’t live in L.A.  Only big concept scripts are selling, and they write smaller quirky character pieces.  Only quirky character scripts are selling, and they write big concept stuff.

My all time favorite was hearing someone say there was no point in him writing a script because he was Jewish and the industry is antisemitic.  Hilarious.

And part of what makes writer zombies so treacherous is that they desperately want to infect you with this mindset.

Because they don’t want you writing.  Seeing you write threatens the validity of their excuses.  Much better for you to join their zombie support group by agreeing how pointless it is to keep putting in all the hard work when it’s never going to amount to a career.  So they constantly share statistics, antidotes and commentary designed to chip away at your confidence, encouraging your doubts and insecurities.  And it’s hard enough to find the courage to battle the blank page day after day without writer zombies trying to claw you into the excuse abyss with them.

But the real reason writer zombies are so damn dangerous is that it’s so easy to become one of them.  Because it means you no longer have to suffer.

The industry is a terrible, cold place run by people who love to tear writers apart.  Rejection is the norm.  Which means writing is the act of falling madly, deeply in love with your characters and story, even knowing you’ll probably get your heart broken for it.  And when that happens, writers pick themselves up and fall in love anew, even though it often leads to the same fate.

The seductive appeal of writer zombies is that they never get their hearts broken.

That’s the upside of never really writing anything.

The downside is that you are never really fully alive.

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2 thoughts on “Reel Story: Beware The Writer Zombies

  1. Peter R

    Beautifully written article and points well made. Mostly the students that come to my classes are there for a grain of hope that they will develop the skills to be able to get the ideas out of their heads onto paper. Maybe one idea per person per lifetime I don’t know.

    Surely it is more lucrative for the writing industry to keep the zombies in the zombie state so that they become dependant on coaching and ego stroking that ‘someday I’ll write that killer script’, forever dipping into the well of knowledge and experience of the elite professional writer. Most of the time the so called zombie writers are not writers at all and simply Walter Mitty characters with a fantasy of being a writer and the courses and blogs validate that fantasy. It is one thing to plan and another to fantasize. The difference between to two is action and inaction.

    It would probably be better for them to buy a weekly lottery ticket than to hope to hit it big with a one off script. Though by their logic it would seem unlikely that they would actually check their numbers so that they could become lottery zombies or to put another way they might be a winner but they don’t want to check so that they can stay in the twilight state of ‘maybe’.

    It seems to me that this type of person is content to fantasize about hitting the jackpot with minimal effort. So saving up all that creative energy and unburdening it and consolidating it in to one novel or play or movie without the means to get it off the ground (or for that matter have it critically reviewed) allows them the delusion of grandeur about their skills and abilities.

    Vampire Writers

    Now on the other hand a writer who writes prolifically but submits nothing is the Vampire Writer. They draw ideas from everyone and everything. No conversation is safe around them as they suck the content dry for drama action and narrative. They are forced to write at ungodly hours of the day when everyone else is in bed. They are charismatic. God are they charismatic. When sensible folk are asleep these crafty souls burn the midnight oil to create the most devious tales, drawing you in with their skill and craft, dazzling you with their vocabulary and knowledge of writing and their dizzying ability to use prose to communicate a canny tale. Boy, do they love William Burroughs, Lou Reed and Jack Kerouac often having a crumpled copies of On the Road or Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye in their pocket. These are the role models and inspiration for their substance abuse. You will be hypnotized by the all the possibilities of their talent and while you are with them notice very little of their flaws.

    Their homes are cavernous hoards of unsubmitted scripts. Castles of paper and tinder, pillars of returned or self returned sealed scripts that reach for the ceiling. Mountains of manuscript. Candles wouldn’t be out of place in this paper dungeon except for the serious fire hazard.

    However once the sun comes up; nothing; in bed. By the time the day has moved on all the opportunities have gone. This type of writer seems to have an allergy to the sun, often wearing shades (even indoors and often at night). So the fly by night writer will miss the day with the fading light.

    There is a remedy. Buy them an alarm clock bt beware that you don’t get in the habit of forcing them to get up by calling them at 10am everyday (10am is the earliest that you would reasonably expect them to rise) or you will be under their control as they are able to do to weaker willed individuals and it will be your duty to read spec script after spec script and supply vodka and coffee until the sun sets.

    This sadly drains you of your own creativity and time, being that you did not notice it a first, taken in as you were with the charisma. But slowly your creative life-force is drained to a point where you are left too weakened and too little time during the day to complete anything and before you know it the cycle is complete. You too are working through the night. All that is left to do is get a copy of Fear and loathing in Las Vegas, a couple of bottles of Mr. Jack and a 1957 Smith Corona.

  2. Pingback: The Zombie Condition | A Writer's Discrepant Memoirs and Other Tales