Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! Hope you all have a wonderful time with friends and family. Below is a Christmas story I wrote for my Sunday school class this Christmas.

The First Christmas

It was dark. It was cold. Out in the field a fire was burning. Shepherds were huddling around it, trying to stay warm, their sheep sleeping nearby. Yaved and Asher had been allowed to come with their fathers their day, and they huddled together by the fire as well. It had been a boring day. They had expected all kinds of excitement – fighting off wolves and lions who would try to steal their sheep – but none of that had happened. Their fathers had been relieved at finally having a quiet day, but Yaved and Asher were annoyed.

“Being a shepherd is no fun,” Asher complained to his friend. “I thought it would be so exciting.”

“I know,” Yaved agreed. “We didn’t get to fight anything and did you see how people looked at us? As if they hated us.”

Asher sighed. “It would be so much better to be a Roman soldier,” he said. “Everyone is afraid of you and you get to ride around in chariots. Youssef saw them in Jerusalem and he said they have four horsepower chariots now.”

“Four horsepower?” Yaved whistled. “Those would be so fast! I wish I had one of those.”

“Well, as a shepherd we would never be able to afford one of those,” Asher grumped.

“Being a shepherd is the worst,” Yaved agreed.

They huddled even closer to the fire. Their faces were glowing with heat, but their backs were still cold. The other shepherds were talking amongst themselves and paying no attention to the boys. Asher threw sticks in the fire and stifled a yawn. Despite the lack of excitement in the day, he was getting tired. There had been a lot of walking. But he did not want to go to sleep before his friend. Yaved still looked very much awake, as he was trying to listen in on the other shepherds.

The shepherds were talking about the Saviour. Yaved had heard them talking about the Saviour many times before and it was almost getting boring. But at the same time there was something comforting about hearing the familiar stories and he was too tired to talk anymore.

Asher nudged him. “Do you really think the Saviour will come any time soon?”

Yaved looked at his friend and shrugged. “They have been talking about it for as long as I can remember, and the prophesy is hundreds of years old. I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.”

“It would be cool though,” Asher said. “He will come to save us. Everything will be different.”

Yaved snorted. “We don’t even go to temple and when was the last time you went to the synagogue? If the Saviour comes, I am sure he will come to the Pharisees and the priests. He is going to be King, he will hardly want to have anything to do with lowly shepherds.”

Asher was quiet, but he felt stung by his friend’s words. The worst part was that he knew Yaved was right.

“Don’t speak like that.”

Yaved looked up. His father looked at him sternly.

“The Saviour will come for everyone, not just the rich and famous. Wasn’t David a shepherd boy? And did not God make David king over Israel?”

Yaved coloured and Asher stared at the ground. Yaved’s father was right: King David had been a simple shepherd boy before he was made king, but it still felt incredible that the Saviour would also come for the shepherds. Yaved had always thought King David must have been a special shepherd boy. He had probably been much cleaner and had gone to temple and the synagogue all the time. He could not possibly have been like them: dirty and despised.

Suddenly the sky brightened. It looked like the sun had come up in the middle of the night and when Yaved peered up, he gasped. An apparition appeared in the sky, an angel. Around the fire, his father and the other shepherds scrambled to their feet, their staffs and slingshots in hand. Asher covered his head with his arms and whimpered. He felt sure they were all about to die.

Then the angel spoke: “Don’t be afraid. I am bringing you some good news. It will be a joy to all the people. Today your Saviour was born in David’s town. He is your Christ, the Lord. This is how you will know him: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding box.”

The light grew even brighter and Yaved saw that the whole sky was filled with angels. All the men were standing now, and Asher had joined Yaved and his father. The angels sung. It was a sound unlike anything Yaved had ever heard,, It was glorious and triumphant. It took him a while to make out the words, but this is what the angels were singing:

“Give glory to God in heaven, and on earth let there be peace to the people who please God.”

Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, the angels were gone. It was dark once more and Asher blinked to adjust his eyes to the sudden darkness. Yaved pulled his hand excitedly.

“Let’s go and find the baby!”

The shepherds shook themselves as if waking up. “Where do we go?” asked one of them.

“To Bethlehem,” said Asher’s father. “David’s town is Bethlehem.”

“We can’t just rush off and leave the sheep,” said one of the other shepherds.

“Sure we can,” said Asher. “The angel said we should go looking for the Saviour, so surely God will look after the sheep for us.”

Asher’s father riffled his hair, something he usually found very annoying. But tonight he was too excited to care.

“The boy is right,” said Asher’s father. “We should trust God to look after the sheep.”

It was hard to find the way in the dark. Asher’s father and Yaved’s father led with two torches and some of the other men carried torches as well, but it was still quite dark. They finally made it to Bethlehem. Asher’s father knocked on the first inn they came to. The innkeeper did not look happy when he opened the door, much less so when he saw a group of shepherds on his doorstep. He sent them away, saying he did not have people staying in the stable.

The next few inns were the same, but finally a grumpy innkeeper pointed them to the stable in the back of the courtyard. Asher’s heart was pounding in his throat as they approached the stable door. Yaved’s father knocked respectfully and after a few minutes the door was opened by a young man. He looked surprised to see the shepherds.

“We have come to see them baby,” Yaved shouted excitedly. “Can we see him?”

Yaved’s father laid a hand on Yaved’s shoulder. “The boy is very excited,” he told the man. “We have heard news of the Saviour being born in a stable, is this the right place?”

The man’s face broke open in a big smile and he thrust out his hand. “I am Joseph,” he said. “Please come in. This is Mary and there in the feeding box is Jesus, the Saviour.”

The shepherds entered the stable. They were quiet now, and even Yaved felt in saw of what he was about to witness. The stable was shabby and Mary was lying on some blankets in the hay. She smiled shyly at the men crowding in the stable. Joseph lifted the baby out of the feeding box and handed him to Asher’s father. Asher peeked at the baby’s face. It looked like an ordinary baby. There was nothing special about him. And yet, God Himself had told them through the angel that this was his Son, the Saviour of all mankind.

As if reading his mind, Asher’s father turned to him and said: “We are all born the same, as little babies. Who we grow up to be is up to God.”

Yaved looked around the stable. It was not the sort of place he had expected the Saviour to be born on and he felt very much put in his place. It seemed that God did not care about riches and important people. Yaved looked at Joseph and Mary who looked like two ordinary, poor people. Nothing flashy or important about them either. And God had chosen them, the despised shepherds, to be the first to hear the news of the birth of the Saviour. He felt warm with happiness at the realisation.

Finally the baby was passed back to his mother and the shepherds left the stable. It was getting light out, they had stayed a long time. Once they were out of the stable it seemed like the spell broke and everyone started talking at once.

“Can you believe we saw the Saviour?” Asher asked Yaved.

“I know! It’s so cool. And he is so normal, you wouldn’t even know he is so important.”

Every time the shepherds saw other people out in the streets, they stopped to tell them the exciting news. At first, people were not willing to believe a bunch of dirty shepherds, even accused them of talking rubbish. But after the shepherds had told them the whole story, people would thank them and rush off. Yaved glowed with pride. They were the messengers of God, and people finally took them seriously.

When they came back to the field, all the sheep were still there, quietly eating grass and being generally unimpressed with what had happened that night. The shepherds gathered their things and started moving the sheep to the next field.

“Still think being a shepherd is boring, Yaved?” his father teased.

Yaved blushed. “Not so much anymore, dad.”

 

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Genres – or: Who am I kidding?

Well, February was a very bad month for me writing-wise. In fact, I didn’t write anything at all, except for my blog and even that was painful. I did do a lot of crocheting though, I finished a baby blanket and started a giant granny square afghan, so I have not been completely devoid of creativity this month.

However, I think I have found the problem with my book. I was just stuck, the story was getting boring and if the writer is bored, the reader is going to be extremely bored. I didn’t know how to fix it and I lost faith in my story. Now, if this were November and I was in the middle of NaNoWriMo, I would have just kept writing at all costs, but since I didn’t have that deadline looming, I just didn’t write at all. Not the best decision, but there we are.

Anyhow, I think I am just trying to be too artistic and literary with my book. I wanted to write realistic fiction and I think I was just kidding myself. I am really not that good a writer. I clearly can’t write a whole novel based on character development alone, I felt like my main character was just getting too whiny and annoying. Not good! I think things would improve a whole lot more if my characters actually fell in love and we can go from there. There is always this prejudice against chick lit, but I think that is exactly what my story is. I was just too snobby to recognise it and in the process, I almost killed my story (and my will to continue with it).

So I apologise if I have gone down in your estimation by confessing that I will probably write a chick lit book, although if you’re the type of person who turns their nose up at chick lit, then boo to you. I have already decided that I am not going to be a published writer – I just don’t have the time to try and get my story published, let alone publish and market it myself –  so I am going to write for myself. Maybe I will at some point share it with someone, but as long as I only write it for myself, I will take more risks with it and go with where it wants to go regardless of whether that is the “respected” path.

So, to use a Seinfeld quote: “I’m back, Jerry, I’m back!”

Writing – or lack thereof

Well, friends, it’s time I come clean. As has been obvious from my January stats, I have not been writing my book as faithful as I should – or intended. And it is now day 11 in February and I have written precisely zero words on my book so far. I have a few real-world excuses – bad cold, tired, busy at work – but they are just that: excuses. The real reason I have not written is because I have come to the realisation that my book sucks. The story is stupid, I should have spent far more time planning and plotting and I am now at a junction where I don’t think I want to go on. I need a complete rewrite of the book and just finishing it is too daunting.

As I write all this down, I think of the advice I gave to fellow writers during NaNoWriMo. “Just write through the tough spots.” “Don’t worry about the rewrites, you need to finish the first draft first before you can edit.” “Not writing is worse than writing bad stuff.” And they are all true, it’s just that it doesn’t really help saying it to myself. I find at the moment keeping up with The Angel’s Game read-along tiring enough although I do really enjoy doing it.

So tomorrow I am going to try to get back into my story. The longer I leave it, the harder it will be to get back to it and I do enjoy writing once I am doing it. It’s just getting started that is the hardest.

January stats

So, my stats for January. I only wrote on my book for 9 days in January, which is quite shameful. In total, I wrote 9,250 words on my book, which is far less than I would have liked, but it still came to a little over 1,000 average for the 9 days. I hope to try better this month.

I also wrote 9,737 words for my blog ( The Angel’s Game read-along posts, I am not counting any other posts). So overall my word count is better than it has been last year (not counting November), so that is something to be proud of at least.

Writing is hard

2013-11-14_19-51-06_34NaNoWriMo has come and gone and I won with 60,000 words. That is fantastic and I am very proud of myself. But then December rolled around and with the Christmas holidays and being sick with the flu, I only wrote another 13,000 words on top of that. Needless to say, I still haven’t finished my book yet. I have to admit I find it hard to keep myself motivated when I don’t have the pressure of NaNoWriMo. While for me that pressure is not sustainable over a period longer than a month, it would be nice to have some sort of accountability for how much I write each month. I have made myself a simple Excel graph which shows my progress per month and that definitely helps, but no one knows whether I actually progress or not. So I may publish my stats here on the blog each month, just so that I have some sort of public shaming (even if it is only in my head) if I do badly in a month.

The problem with writing is that if you keep the momentum going and you write every day, it is fairly easy to keep the story flowing. When you don’t write for a week (which happened to me in December when I was sick), it is that much harder to get back into it.

I found it therefore very heartening to read on other writers’ blogs that their New Year’s resolution was to write every day, even if it is just 100 words. And these are writers who do not have a full time job in addition to their writing. So if even they have a hard time staying focused and motivated, I shouldn’t beat myself up so much.

I think part of why writing is hard for me this time around is because I didn’t properly plan my novel. On one hand I find it very liberating and I enjoy being able to explore where my characters are going. On the other hand, there will be SO much editing to do when I am done. I already am keeping notes in a notebook of what needs to change and it is disheartening to realise how much tightening up I still need to do (not to mention fixing all the inconsistencies that are springing up like weeds).

BUT: I know that writing makes me happy. Even if I don’t feel like sitting down and writing, I know that once I have written a chapter, or scene, I feel so relaxed and happy. And that should be motivation enough. (Also, now that I have fixed my laptop up with a SSD and more memory, it is so much faster, so that makes it easier too.) (Plus the fact that I am using Scrivener now.)

So no more excuses, on to writing another scene!

Christmas season

sunrise_winter_sunrise_skies‘Tis the holiday season! I can’t believe how fast this year has flown. The days just seem to merge into the nights. November came and went (and yes, I did win NaNoWriMo with 60,000 words) and now we are hurtling towards the end of the year. 2015 is almost upon us, unbelievable.

This year has been a whirlwind for me, especially because I have been studying so hard. I finished in the beginning of November, but then headed straight into NaNoWriMo, so it hasn’t been until December that I could take it easy. And of course a couple of weeks into December, I got sick. First the kids came down with the flu and then I caught it. So it is wonderful to have some time off over the Christmas holidays. Yesterday we spent Christmas with just the four of us, which was wonderful and relaxing. We don’t have much else planned for the time off, so I intend to catch up on blogging and writing my book, which hasn’t progressed much after the end of November. I intend to blog more, but then it seems I always have that intention and then it all goes right out the window. Maybe now with no studying clogging up my time I can actually focus on things I enjoy.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you all a great New Year, although I hope to pop in here before the end of this year.

NaNoWriMo, Studying and Working

NaNoWriMo Participant-2014-Square-ButtonHello, my friends! Is anyone still out there? It has been ever so long since I wrote, I am a bit ashamed. In my defense, I have been very busy studying for my very last two exams for my tax qualification and I have been stressed out of my mind about it. I think it’s just because this is the home stretch and I so much want it all to be over. The last weeks have been especially tough, but I have two more days of revision, then two days of working and then next weeks are my exams. If I pass these, it will all finally be over and I will be able to spend a lot more time doing things I love. Like writing, doing my blog (which is of course also writing), reading, crocheting. So I think I can be forgiven for being very anxious for it to be over.

However, not all is doom and gloom here. I am once again preparing to participate in NaNoWriMo in November. Unfortunately I won’t have much chance to write before the 5th of November when my last exam is, but I will just have to catch up on other days. (I am sure I will be able to sneak some time in, after all, one does sometimes have to take a break from studying, right?)

I was originally thinking of finishing my poor 2013 NaNoWriMo novel, which got a bit snowed under and forgotten by all the studying that followed November last year. For one I wouldn’t have had to come up with another story and I genuinely liked what I had started. Also, I felt bad to just abandon my poor novel.

But…(and we all felt this BUT coming) I got a great idea which I would love to explore further, so I have decided to start something new this year. After all, with my exams out of the way I will have oodles of time to finish both novels and edit them. And I also did not feel like being a rebel (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). So, a new idea it is. Due to time pressures I am going to have to pants it somewhat again this year, but that is all right. I actually quite liked pantsing last year, I think that plotting my first NaNoWriMo novel to death sort of took the joy out of it. I did write a quick and dirty plan, I used the 7 point plot for this. I found it very helpful to at least give my novel somewhat of a direction. And even though I am studying and can’t sit down for hours on end plotting and planning, I am still thinking about my characters and their journey quite a lot and I have a fairly good sense of where they are going. So I am at least somewhat prepared.

What else? Oh yes, I am planning on handwriting my novel again this year. Although I write much slower than I type, I do find it more inspiring to handwrite, if you will. I felt more of a connection with my characters during last year’s NaNo, and that could be because I didn’t plot too much, but I also think that the act of handwriting helps in focusing my mind on the stories and characters. And I still was able to write 50,000 words last year, so I am sure I can do the same this year.

However (funny, scary story): because Scrivener is one of NaNoWriMo’s partners and I have heard really good things about them, I decided I would try it out and see what it’s all about. In the back of my head I was thinking of maybe writing my novel using Scrivener if I liked it. So, off I went to download it on Saturday and guess what? As soon as I had downloaded it, my laptop decided it would stop working. (This had nothing to do with Scrivener, by the way, just very bad timing.) I was able to get all my information from my laptop, which consisted mostly of pictures, but I was told my harddrive was bust and I either needed to fix it, or buy a new laptop. As I quite like my laptop, hubby and I decided to fix it. So…one new solid state drive and 2G of RAM went into the laptop. Then I installed all the necessary software and my laptop is finally back. I’m so happy I was able to get everything off and I hope I have learned the lesson to always back up! But yeah, with this scare, I am once more convinced to handwrite. After all, I did buy a whole bunch of new notebooks, so I will need to fill those, don’t I?

Well, that was the update so far, sorry it was so long. There will probably be another period of radio silence as I go through my exam and NaNoWriMo, although I really hope to come here every now and then during November to give a little update. Book reviews will have to wait till December I’m afraid.

I won NaNoWriMo!

2013-Winner-Facebook-CoverYes, dear readers, I did it! Yesterday I wrote the 50,150th word of my novel, and with that I won my second NaNoWriMo challenge in a row! My novel is not done yet and due to the fact that I have neglected my studies a bit this last month and have to catch up, I don’t expect to finish the novel before Christmas, but I did write more than 50,000 words in November. I was a little worried as I also had my gallbladder removed a little less than a week ago and I was in considerable pain for a few days, but I still managed to write and finish. And I did it all with my trusty fountain pen and three notebooks (two are full and the third one will be by the time I am done). It does feel good to see all those words written down, even though certain sections are hardly legible. Editing will have to come much later, although I do hope to actually edit this novel (unlike my last NaNoWriMo novel which is still in first draft form).

I am now going to relax, continue to recover from my surgery and catch up on my studies. Thanks for all of you who have supported my via Twitter and in real life.

NaNoWriMo Revisited

2013-11-14_19-51-06_34In my last blog post, which was ages ago, I boldly stated I was not going to do NaNoWriMo, citing very valid reasons such as work, study, kids and general lack of time to do this challenge. Of course, as some of you who read my comments or follow me on Twitter already know, I since changed my mind and decided to participate anyhow. So now that we are almost at the halfway mark, let’s take stock.

Because I decided so very late to write a book, I had limited time to plot and plan. Last year I planned my book down to the last chapter, laying out the path my main character would take. I had read a lot about writing, and took note of how a book is supposed to be structured. Based on that I developed a dilemma that my character had to solve, obstacles that would be put in her way and the final outcome of the whole mess. While this made my NaNoWriMo experience very smooth, as I always knew what I was going to write next, I think it took some of the spontaneity out of my writing. It was structured, planned out and too organised. It didn’t leave room for any surprises, although of course there still were some there. I still really enjoyed writing it and I am pleased with the end product, but I did not develop a deep passion for it, which I think is the reason why I have been so reluctant to edit it.

So, this year everything is different. I had hardly any plan when I started. I had a very vague idea of what I wanted to write about, I had a beginning, a vague middle and barely an end. The only notes I had about my novel before I started was a list of characters with first names only. I still don’t have last names for some of my characters who have already made an appearance. I am also handwriting my novel this year. Last year I used yWriter, but this year I wanted to have something portable that I could use anywhere I went. So I chose a Moleskine notebook and a Lamy Safari fountain pen. The Moleskine was a notebook I had won in an online draw and the Lamy Safari was recommended to me by someone on the NaNoWriMo forums and I have to say it’s the best fountain pen I’ve ever owned. Both fountain pen and notebook are pictured above, you can see that the fountain pen is not much to look at, but it allows me to write big swathes of text without cramping up.

I am happy to report that I am on track with my NaNoWriMo word count. The first day I was able to build up a bit of a buffer, which I definitely needed as I got sick a few days ago and was not able to write that day. I wrote almost 3000 words yesterday, which is quite a feast when you’re handwriting. I am really enjoying my novel, the story is coming together nicely and although I am still fuzzy on certain things that are still going to happen, I find that as I draw closer to an unknown part in my novel, the ideas just start to flow and I can write the part without trouble. I also find that being forced to write slower helps me think more about what I am writing, and helps me experience the story better. Last year I had times where I typed so fast I barely remembered what I wrote afterwards. That can have its benefits too, but I am enjoying the slower pace right now. It will mean I will take longer to actually finish my novel (it’s going to be longer than 50,000 words), but that’s all right.

What surprises me this time around is that I can write a story without plotting everything out in detail. And not only that, but this way of writing is fun and has unexpected results. It does help that I do have a rough idea where everything is headed, but there is the flexibility of changing certain future events based on a surprise turn the plot has taken. Of course you should be flexible even when you have an outline, but I am always very reluctant to stray off the beaten track so I will stick to an outline no matter what. I am not going to say that this book writes itself, it doesn’t. I still have to take time to ponder my next move and sometimes the writing is slow going and painful. But I like the way the story is shaping up. It really feels like a story I wanted to tell rather than something I think other people would want to read (hopefully they still want to read what I want to tell though!). And a few days ago I wrote an absolutely fantastic scene that almost made me cry and that opened up a number of new possibilities within my story.

So in conclusion: I am very happy I decided to do NaNoWriMo again this year. It’s rewarding and creating and fun and worth the time I devote to it. And it’s fun to do it with my sisters too. And now I have written almost 900 words, so I better go write my daily NaNo words for today. Blogging will be light during NaNoWriMo, but I will keep you posted of my progress.