I’m Exhausted and Crabby
Sometimes I think the universe put me in a rural place and made a pandemic just so this could happen. Then I think how narcissistic and inherently dumb that thought truly is.
Then I think one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
Then I think there is no great loss without some small gain. Then I think: is writing 1000 pages just “a small gain”? That’s screwed up.
Now you can tell I’m confused, along with being exhausted and crabby.
In the spring I got laid off from a full-time job. Then the government gave free $1200 checks and an extra $600 a week of unemployment pay.
I thought: I’m supposed to stay home, I’m provided with enough money to live on, and I’ve always wanted a very long stretch of time to write fiction.
Two years earlier, I’d moved to rural North Carolina. We got the only wireless internet available, but it wasn’t great. Downloading a movie took hours. Streaming the greatest new shows was out of the question. And I dislike almost all of “regular” TV that is widely available on our only TV choice: overpriced satellite TV. It’s turned into talent and reality shows and the occasion tries-too-hard sitcom.
There it was, all handed to me like the perfect lyric in a song: stay home and write.
So I stayed home. I made two early trips to the grocery store, spending $750. I stayed home so much it took me three months to go through one tank of gas.
And I wrote. First I decided to revise a novel about a girl who traces her family tree and discovers unusual twists and secrets. The revision went badly, so I rewrote the entire thing from scratch. I let it rest, as I always do before sending something around to agents.
Then I started on my “prairie novel” as I call it—based on a real person, but not Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was so rough I panicked. I still had time before me. Was the writing going to go this slow? I’d never get it done.
I attended SCBWI online webinars with great teachers. I stepped back and instead of pounding the keyboard daily, I thought. A lot.
One key question I always work with is: why am I the person to write this story? It doesn’t mean you’ve had the exact experience you’re writing about. It doesn’t just mean #ownvoices. It means, as its core, what is in your heart that can become a story? Something from the deepest part of you? Something you could defend writing about even if faced with your harshest critic.
A new story, with a male protagonist, sprang forth. Usually I’m a planner. This time I was a pantser. I simply started writing, starting with an 11-year-old boy who loved to arrange the variety of smokes in the “cigarette bowl” as his parents prepared for a 1970s card party. I knew the goal, and even some of the other characters, immediately. But I knew the whole story, and felt “inside” the protagonist.
It poured out at first, then slowed, then slowed even more. I started to feel like I had some weird psychological cramp like “hesitation to complete” or “reluctance to succeed.”
I stepped back and thought. The keyboard went silent again. More details of the story came forth in my head when my fingers were quiet. But more importantly, I better learned how my characters’ actions led to events and how their emotions led to reactions. I outlined the rest, switching from pantser to planner, and wrote it to the finish line.
Then it was back to the prairie novel. In November, the election over and refreshing, and hearing of a nearly-ready vaccine, I pushed to make it a 1000-page year. It seemed that I might go back to a full-time job and not have this chance again, so I thought: if I have three reasonably good manuscripts under my belt, I have a great start.
Keep in mind, I’m not new at this. I’ve written 11 (yes, ELEVEN) middle-grade and young-adult manuscripts. One was published, though an oddball type: a short story collection. I’ve read hundreds of middle-grade books: 50-plus just in 2020.
You could say I’m either stupid for going so long without more publishing success, or intelligently determined for pushing so hard forward. But only recently did I somehow turn myself inside out and stop thinking of story structure and plot progression and character development—and all the other craft-oriented techniques—and work from an origin of something deep in my heart, core to my past, and deeply knowledgeable to me on an emotional level.
That’s harder. I daren’t even tell others how to get to that place. After all, look how long it took me!
In 2021 surely I will go out to eat a lot, see friends in states throughout the U.S., and vacation in Florida when it’s cold here, and go to in-person groups again, have large holiday gatherings, and have “regular life.”
Right now I’m crabby and exhausted. But I made my goal. This is what I must remember about 2020. I lived. And I wrote.