Tagged: writing

NaNoWriMo ate my life

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Ah, yes, November. That time of year where I vainly try to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and usually peter out around 20,000 – 25,000. And yet, I insist on trying. 20,000 words in a month is still twice my usual goal of 10,000 words in a month. Plus, it’s fun. (Yes, I realize that “fun” is a relative term.)

Except this year, we’re a third of the way through the month and I’m more or less on track? (KNOCK ON WOOD.) I’ve been sidelining some other things (like this here blog) to focus on getting words on the page, but my efforts seem to be paying off. The goal for today is to have 15,000 words written, and I’m sitting at 12,285 (I had a killer migraine yesterday, the kind where I couldn’t even sleep because my head was pounding so hard, so I only wrote 500 words).

But perhaps more important than my total word count is the fact that I’ve managed to write something every day in November. I’ve been really struggling to get back to a consistent writing practice—I keep letting the “urgent” (lesson plans! grading! walking the dog!) get in the way of the “important” (working on my novel! submitting stuff!). The truth is that even though I’m busy, I still have time to write for 15 or 30 minutes every day. I just haven’t been forcing myself to do it.

Well, now I am. I’ve gotten back into that long-term flow of the project, where I’m thinking about it constantly, imagining what-ifs and figuring out what my characters would do in situations I find myself in. Self-help gurus love to talk about “flow,” the state of being “in the zone” and essentially getting shit done. I’ve definitely felt that flow state while writing, but I think there’s a larger, less immediate type of flow that comes from working on a project deeply every day. Or, at the very least, consistent work makes it much, much easier to access the flow state. What do I know? I’m just a writer.

Speaking of which, I have 3,000 words to write today. I’d better get cracking.

The truth of fiction in The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried

I first read this book as a senior in high school. I didn’t know how to react to it. It made me very uncomfortable (especially the few scenes in which animals are involved) but it also struck me as being undeniably true, and for that I couldn’t put it down.  This book is one of four that defined my writing early on (Don Quixote, Narnia and Sandman being the others).

The Things They Carried is the only book that has literally followed me. It came up again, and again, and again in reading assignments during my college career, and I was not surprised to find it on Chatham’s reading list when I began my MFA. It wasn’t until I read it for the second time, about a year after my first reading, that I realized why I felt so drawn to it.

O’Brien not only jerks us around with the “did this really happen to him or not” theme, but he puts us into a living hell and makes us live it with him. This is not an easy book to read. People die, animals die, and terrible things happen to characters, both physically and emotionally. By the end we know that it doesn’t matter whether or not the events he describes “really happened”. They’re still true. And therein lies the book’s true power: It distills the essence of fiction. “This never happened in real life, but it’s true all the same.”

Of course that doesn’t even take into account the issues surrounding war and Vietnam that the book addresses. Although I wasn’t alive during the Vietnam War, I can still see its impact on America’s psyche, and perhaps more relevant to my every day life, its impact on people whom I care about who fought in Vietnam and came out less than whole. The ’60s and ’70s were two of the most important decades in terms of major changes to American society and culture, and Vietnam played a huge role in that. O’Brien’s book also distills that and makes it real, makes it relevant even to those of us born a decade or more after the war’s end.

For those two reasons, every single U.S. citizen should read this book.

(I also have to give partial credit to this book for my obsession with metafiction and the resultant blog, The Narrative in the Blog—which has since been retired and archived here on kellylynnthomas.com. My post on metafiction in The Things They Carried can be found here.)

Writing take away: The tension between truth and reality fascinates me, and I look to books like this one and Don Quixote as the prime examples of fiction that really explores that theme. The Things They Carried has already had an immeasurable impact on my writing and will continue to do so.  While many classes or professors will focus on the namesake short story/first chapter of the book and the physical and emotional things the soldiers carried and the technique with which O’Brien portrays that, I focus more on the way O’Brien tells his stories.

He not only tells many of the stories multiple times in different ways with different details, but from different perspectives as well. He speaks as a character and as an author, as a participant and as an observer. And he never fails to mention that none of it happened, but all of it’s true.

Storytelling has cropped up in almost everything I’ve written over the past two years, without me even trying to include it or doing it consciously. More than one of my stories also examines the tension between truth and reality. Now that I see what a major theme it’s become for me, I am purposefully playing with it and experimenting, and it was definitely be a major theme in my MFA thesis and the resultant manuscript, She’s Tired of Going Nowhere.

A version of this post appeared originally on this blog on July 11, 2011.

Miss Migraine: A gratitude post

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on September 5, 2012.

First, I am grateful for words, for language. I am grateful for the skill and intuition to shape them into meaning, into beauty, into stars, into beginnings, endings, middles. I am grateful for narrative, for storytelling and all the forms it takes, for the comfort it brings me, for the comfort I hope to bring to others through it. I am grateful for language in all its unspoken forms: the way the body speaks through movement, through touch; the way birds sing to each other as the sun spills above the horizon; the ways bees dance to guide each other to pollen.

purple morning glories

Morning Glories. Photo taken 09/12 by Kelly Lynn Thomas.

Second, I am grateful that my favorite flower, the purple morning glory, returned to the empty lot across the street from my house this year. Their vines twist upward around the links in the broken fence, flowers spreading themselves wide for the dawn, curling up to rest in the afternoon heat. There’s is the truest purple, the most beautiful color, I have ever seen. And I am grateful to look at them day after day, to touch their silken petals and whisper praise, to feel them singing to the sun — not with voice, but with color. That song touches me on its way to the sky, and I feel renewed.

Whole wheat waffles with whipped cream, blueberries and strawberries

Homemade whole wheat waffles, made by my husband.

Third, I am grateful for my home, which is not a place, per se, but a state of being. Home is my husband, my dogs, my family living 300 miles away. Home is waking up to my husband making my favorite whole wheat waffles before I leave for a long trip. Home is returning to our house, the place we physically inhabit, to one wagging tail and one wagging nubbin, and one all-encompassing hug. Home is feeling safe, free from pressures and responsibilities; home is the ability to restore my spirit among the people who love me. Homemade waffles help, too.

This post was inspired by the book Freeing Yourself From Anxiety by Tamar Chansky, which I reviewed here previously. What are you grateful for?

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