The 1,000-page Year

I’m Exhausted and Crabby

Photo by SAJAD FI on Unsplash

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 March 2020 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 lots of fiction.

Stay Home

Two years earlier, I’d moved to a small house in rural North Carolina. We got the only wireless internet available — not a fast one. YouTube videos pause every five seconds to buffer. Downloading a movie takes hours. Streaming the greatest new shows was out of the question. And I dislike almost all of “regular” TV: talent and reality shows and the occasional 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 wearing a mask and gloves, spending $750. I stayed home so much it took me three months to go through one tank of gas.

Write

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.

Stay Home

I’m write middle-grade fiction (roughly ages 8–12) so I attended SCBWI online webinars heavily. 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?

Write

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 from beginning to end, and felt “inside” the protagonist.

That novel 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.”

Stay Home

I stepped back and thought. The keyboard went silent again. More details of the story, new twists, and better logic came forth in my head when my fingers were quiet. 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.

Write

Then it was back to the prairie novel. In November 2020, 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. And keep in mind, I have already published a novel. Unless you magically become a major seller, though, it takes constant diligence to stay in the game.

Stay Home

Only a few years ago, through intense therapy (three years of once-a-week sessions with a psychologist) did I somehow turn myself inside out and learned everything about myself, my motivations, and how I interact with the world. For my writing, it made me stop thinking of all the other craft-oriented and “how to sell” techniques and work from an origin of something deep in my heart, core to my being, and trekkable on an emotional level.

Rest

In later 2021 surely I will go out to eat a lot, see family and friends in places I formerly lived, vacation in Florida when it’s cold in North Carolina, go to in-person groups again, have large holiday gatherings, and have “regular life.”

Right now I’m simply crabby and exhausted. But I made my goal. This is what I must remember about 2020. I lived. And I wrote.

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Chuck Mall

Chuck Mall

Asheville NC. Former writer for men's fitness mags. Author, The Owl Motel. Writer of middle-grade fiction. Chuckmall.com and @chuckmall on SM.