zombie outbreaks

A while back, my husband worked part-time at a used bookstore on a small island in British Columbia. The bookstore was about the size of a single-car garage. One day, a man came in and walked purposefully up to the counter. He said, “Excuse me. Where’s your zombie outbreak section?”

That man had a quest. I imagine him stopping at nothing to track down the crucial, life-saving information he needed, however obscure or hidden it might be.

Something changes when we’re motivated from inside, questing as though our life depends on it, rather than operating out of obligation or following someone else’s agenda: We conjure fuel. We ignite the engine. We get revved up.

Emergency Info BC, a British Columbia governmental agency, has proclaimed May to be “Zombie Awareness Month,” taking advantage of the global popularity of preparing for zombie outbreaks (who knew?). This is a brilliant move. Living in a high earthquake probability region like British Columbia means living with the constant frisson of imminent attack … or ignoring the issue with potentially life-threatening repercussions.

Reframing earthquake preparations as a zombie outbreak preparations gives residents the conceptual relief of an alternate reality (whether you believe in zombies or not), one that’s not as directly focused on the almost incomprehensible, yet very real, threat that an incredibly strong earthquake could occur at any moment.

Preparing for an earthquake feels like a goal vs. a quest. It’s something we should do. It’s something I tried to do and finally did when we lived in Vancouver, but it freaked me out so much that I could only accomplish it the kaizen way, in five-minute segments a day for a couple of months.

But preparing for a zombie outbreak! Wow! If I’d had that concept to embrace, I’d have chortled my way through earthquake preparedness lickety-split. I’d probably have put up photos of zombies in the earthquake prep closet and used zombie outbreak language during our earthquake prep family meetings. It would have fired me up rather than exhausted me.


Goals are practical. Avoidable. Often frustratingly out of reach. A goal emanates a whiff of the obligatory. A quest, on the other hand, is like a holy flame. Impossible to turn away from. Gripping. Haunting. Evocative.

What’s your most dear writing goal? The one you yearn to pursue, even if you haven’t told anyone or aren’t yet doing anything about it? Breathe into it for a moment.

What change of perspective or context would shift that goal toward a quest? How can you reframe it to the point that you’re so fired up about the journey that you’ll stop at nothing?

Start by looking at what’s been keeping you from pursuing that goal. Have you been seeing yourself as too old, too untalented, too uneducated, too anything to step into the reality of achieving that goal? If so, focus first on a reframe.

Explore ways of personalizing the holy nature of your quest. See how much of what you already really passionately value and care about at a life-and-death level you can combine with your writing goal. Your children? Your clients? Your garden? Step past how silly it may seem to invoke such values in the service of your writing. After all, zombie outbreaks are pretty silly … yet they get the job done. That’s the point.

The holy motivation of a quest comes from combining a value that evokes a life-and-death caring with a yearning to write from deep within. You write the novel, stopping at nothing, because you want your children to know the real you and see the way you model going all the way in the pursuit of your deepest goals. Or you finish the self-help book so the women you work with at the shelter have one more handhold on the way to a safer life. You try on contexts until you find the one that lights your flame.

You find a reason to write that feels like a reason to live.


Related reading: Yearly Theme and Wander – Write Better by Clarifying Your Quest

3 comments to zombie outbreaks

  • Oh how I love your perspective! This reminds me of my quest to ignite my daughter’s school lunches. Goal: prepare healthy lunches with a variety of foods…boring. Quest: Create creative bento boxes. Haunt the aisles of Uwajimaya looking for tiny, kid-sized food containers. Cut food into impossibly small shapes and sizes. Insert small characters and notes into hidden corners.

    Quests are fun for everyone!!!

    • I wish you’d been making my school lunches when I was a kid! What a great idea. I can so picture you motivatedly rooting through Uwajimaya’s treasure trove for your sweetie.

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