End of Year Weirdness

teddy bear christmas

I just realised why it feels so weird.

I know that everyone says that they don’t feel Christmassy and all every year, but I was definitely feeling something different about the end of the year this year, and just now it hit me what it is.

Both my children have finished school. This is the first year in 18 years that I haven’t had an ‘end of school’ routine with a child. I haven’t had any final assemblies, any prizes or awards, any end of year activity days.

And yes, Moz is still a teacher, and would normally attend all these things, giving me some sense of normalcy, but this year he got hit with the horrible cold thing – the one that ends with the everlasting hacking cough (apparently) – and wasn’t able to attend any of the end of year things for his school at all.

And while I’ve finished up work for the year, I’ve been doing that slowly and in pieces for a few weeks now. There was no big last-day marker.

So this year the end of the year has come in a dropwise, petering out, unmarked fashion.

And it feels weird.

But in another way, it’s been really nice. We’ve taken it slow. Our tree isn’t up yet (the picture is from 2013) and I’m not worried about it.

Tonight the kids both come home – Jess from Canberra, and Caleb from a four-day road trip – and tonight we will start to celebrate Christmas and end-of-year-ness together. I’m really looking forward to it.

With two adult children we’re starting a new set of traditions.

I have a friend who has moved to a small mining town in Western Australia. This will be her second Christmas ever without her wider family around. She also needs to start a new set of traditions. And I think she’s feeling a little weird too.

Then there’s my friend whose father-in-law passed away just last night, and things have changed for that family too.

We have such high expectations for the Christmas period. We build them year by year. We can do it all ourselves but we’re given unhelpful help from Christmas movies, TV shows, advertising, and all the marketing guff that goes on.

For some people this time of year is incredibly hard as they battle loneliness, addictions, and so on. But even for those of us blessed with happy families and first-world wealth the changes that each year brings can shock us and hurt us as we approach a milestone like Christmas Day.

I find it helpful to go back to the foundations. For me, the foundation of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. That is enough for a huge celebration no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

The second foundation stone for me is the celebration of family. My own husband and children, my parents and siblings, my in-laws, and my church family. No matter what the day brings I have so much to be grateful for.

I hope that you can find something to be grateful for this Christmas, even if you celebrate through tears.

Lots of love,

Ruth

Learning by doing

You probably expected to hear more from me in this blog since I started spending all Fridays writing. And I expected to write more. And I have been writing, it’s just that instead of writing my blog, I’ve been writing my novel. Have I told you all that I’m writing a novel? It’s pretty exciting because it’s something I’ve wanted to do probably all my life. But like all good things, it’s taking a long time and a lot of work.

I wrote a full draft last year, from beginning to end, then I worked on it a bit, correcting things that I saw needed correcting, and making it as good as I could get it. I got to the point where I wasn’t willing to spend any more time on it if it was rubbish so I gave it to some well trusted people to read – just to see if it was worth going on with. They were encouraging (thank the Good Lord), and gave some helpful advice, and I have taken note of the advice and I’m trying to incorporate it. I’ve opened a new Scrivener document and I’ve started again, writing yet another draft.

It’s harder this time – I want the novel to be excellent (or at least a lot better than it was in the last draft) so I’m trying to improve everything that I can. When I was first writing, I just reached inside my head for the story and wrote it down. In a way it was like reading a novel – it just wasn’t written yet – and I could write at any time – at my desk, in a cafe, even last thing before I went to bed. If it was rubbish, that was ok, I knew I would be fixing it later.

But now it is later, and I need to make sure that the writing is not rubbish. I am finding that I need a lot more brain power to write this time. I read each sentence critically to make sure it says exactly what I want it to say. I’m trying not to start three sentences in a paragraph with the same header words (unless, of course, it’s for effect). I’m trying to fill in the holes that need filling and to change the scenes that my test readers said didn’t make sense.

I want my writing to be good, so I have researched a fair bit to find out what makes a novel a good novel. I have read a lot in the last couple of years about novel writing – about the dos and don’ts, about character arcs and themes, about adverbs (don’t use them, unless you use them well), about planning (very important so you don’t get lost) and not planning your novel (so that you can follow where the story goes without being stuck to a rigid plan), about the rules of writing and how to ignore the rules of writing and so on. It started to get very confusing – my take on it all is that there are rules that you can follow to make sure your writing isn’t horrifically bad, but if you follow the rules slavishly your writing will be horrifically bland.

Character arcs was one thing I really couldn’t get figured out when I started. I had read that each character in the story had to have an external issue to work on (kill the dragon, for example), and also an internal issue (daddy issues or some such thing). I could see how important that was for the main character but I couldn’t figure out all the character arcs for the other characters. I was concentrating so hard on the MC and getting her story straight that at first the others were just there to help her work out her story. I understood, in principle, that every character in a book needs to be a full-bodied character with their own story happening right alongside the MC and that your book is a bit two-dimensional without that. But I just couldn’t think it all through, I couldn’t make it come together.

But over the last month or so, as I’ve worked on this draft, it’s become very exciting. The characters have started to take on lives of their own. I’ve realised that Robbie (who I thought wasn’t very important) is going to have to face his own mortality, and that Jan (who is very important but not the MC) has issues about living in a small town that I had no idea about when I started. Novelists write about this, this coming to life of the characters, I can’t believe it’s happening in my story. It’s so cool!

So now I’m trying to dredge out of my little brain exactly what I’ve read about character arcs and how to write them and I think I might have to do some more research. But while I research I’ll keep writing because it seems that this novel writing thing only happens as you write. It’s one of those ‘learn by doing’ situations.

Sometimes I get scared that I will never finish the book. That I will keep polishing for ever and ever and it will never be good enough to be out there for people to read. Sometimes, when I read about the business aspect I find there’s a whole new level of fear to go through – I need to find editors and cover designers, I need to work out contracts and legalese to make sure I’m not getting ripped off, and probably a whole host of issues I haven’t even seen yet. And then there’s the fact that if I ever want to make money from writing, and I do, then I need to publish at least five books before any money happens. FIVE times this! Five!

So I spiral into panic.

And then I remember. Quietness and confidence, repentance and rest. I need to trust that this is what I am supposed to be doing. I can leave all the outcomes in God’s hand and just do, each day, what I have been called to do. It’s about process, it’s about living in the moment. And it’s about the fact that I really love writing. If it takes five years to finish this one book then that’s what it takes. I just need to keep going with what I am called to do each day, day after day, and leave the rest up to God.

And can I encourage you, if you know there is something you want to do, then do it. Enjoy the practice. If nothing else, you’ll learn a heap about yourself as you go, and you might even achieve something that you’ve always wanted to achieve. There was a little song I learned as a kid:

Practice makes perfect

Practice makes perfect

I guess if I practice then better I’ll be

I’m off to write some more…

First day of school

Today, for the first time in ages, I drove my child to school by car for the first day of term. I wouldn’t usually do that – we live so close that he usually walks – but he’s going to camp today and I always drive them in when it’s camp day.

Yes, camp on the first day of the new year.

Yes, the school think it’s a bad idea too, apparently they couldn’t help it.

Hopefully it all goes smoothly.

Hopefully they have the medical form that I mailed to them at the end of last year.

There were cars everywhere at the school, EVERYWHERE! And even for the short time that I was there I picked up the buzz of excitement. The little circles of girls sitting together, catching up. The parents walking their little children up to the primary school, all prepared to stay to settle them in. Boys running down the street, bursting with energy.

The new year is full of promise, fresh and exciting.

As I drove on to work I started musing on the other first days that I remember. The day I took DD (my eldest) for her first day of kindergarten. All kitted out in the uniform, so cute, with that straw hat and green ribbon. The straw had lasted about a week and then was replaced by something that you can shove into a bag without it falling apart. But it was soooo cute for about two days!

The day I took DS for his first day, both of them in school and I couldn’t believe how the time had passed and how grown up we were. I don’t think I wondered what I would do with my time – I was at uni by then, I knew what I would have to try to squeeze in to school hours.

I remember the day that DD started grade 3 and DS was in prep – both of them in full time school for the first time. I stayed to watch the beginning of the school day. Their primary school started each day by lining up in class lines and being welcomed to school by the principal. It was so precious, I just wanted to be a part of it!

This is getting maudlin!

Anyway, the thing is, the only first day I’m going to attend in the future will be this time next year, and only if they do camp on the first day again. We are getting to the end of the process now, DS has two more years to go and then a whole new adventure starts.

I find first days of school so exciting. Perhaps because when my children are starting it’s not my adventure. I can get all of the excitement of a new start without any of the accompanying nervousness and anxiety. (Perhaps it’s because I’m an introvert and the first day of school means an empty house for me!)

I have a few new things starting this year – a new research project with a new boss, a new go at tutoring more full time, new opportunities to write. May I approach these things with excitement and joy for fresh possibilities and new starts. May I let go of the fear and anxiety, and trust that I will have the support I need as I step out into new things!

Here’s to first days!