Ideas. I’m filled with them. They woke me up at 4.30 this morning and they keep on coming all day. But even I get stuck for inspiration now and again. Learn how I get my fix of ideas in my column for The Hague Online where I am Writer in Residence. Read more here

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Writing in times of change

September 14, 2009

As summer gives way to autumn and children go back to school, or off to university, it’s a time of change. For the writer, times of change are huge sources of inspiration. Read my September column at The Hague Online, where I am Writer in Residence, to find out why.

It must be 20 years since I first discovered the words of Natalie Goldberg. In fact, her Writing Down the Bones was the first book on writing I ever bought. It blew me away. Here was a woman who was making a very nice living doing something that to many would be classed as sheer indulgence. She would go and sit in a café, ‘meet at the page’ and just ‘go’. She’d write about whatever popped into her head, inspired by the scene around her or the thoughts in her head. One sentence from her book has stayed with me ever since. It is a sentence that I add to many of my handouts. It is a sentence that makes my stomach do a little flip every time I read it out loud. Here’s what she says:

‘Begin to write in the dumb, awkward way an animal cries out in pain, and there you will find your intelligence, your words, your voice.’

Every time I look at a piece of my writing and think there is something missing I remember this phrase. The best writing should resonate not only with the reader, but with you, the writer. The best writing is emotive. I learned this to my cost last year. Let me tell you the story:

Just over two years ago I decided it was time I wrote a novel, I’d had an idea mooching around in my head for a while and recognised that it was no good leaving it there. I had to put it on the page. So, I started writing. I was quickly ‘in the flow’ and wrote 98,000 words. It was about an expat wife, a bit like me, who found herself in Dubai, just like me, and who wanted to retain her professional identity against all odds, just like me. I knew the topic well. I had been there, done that, got the tee shirt and written the books too. With titles under my belt including Career in Your Suitcase, Find Your Passion and Expat Entrepreneur, I reckoned I had the subject matter sussed. But after months of writing I received some feedback on my work and was told in no uncertain terms that I had got it badly wrong. You see, the thing is, I knew so much about the subject that I had inadvertently written a non-fiction book all over again instead of a novel.

My wonderful mentor, and much-published novelist, Anita Burgh took me to one side and said: “What happened to your poetry and your lyricism, Jo? Where did you go? It’s a story, remember?”

Well, I’m not sure where I had been, but at that moment I knew the place I had to go was back to the drawing board. I binned my 98,000 words and started again, this time from a place of pain. This time I got right inside the head of my main characters and felt their emotions not for them, but with them. In doing so, I was forced to drop my ‘portable career expert’ status and simply start telling the story. In short, I did what Goldberg had been telling me to do for years. To be vulnerable. To be awkward. To feel exposed.

I finished my novel in January, and immediately after, as some of you know, I published my first volume of poetry, A Moving Landscape. Buoyed up by the feeling of relief and freedom that I had gained from writing my novel, I was confident enough to go one step further and show the world my poems too.

I’m with Goldberg. Your best writing and your writer’s voice are to be found when you find your words not in the pen or keyboard but in your heart, your gut, your soul. If you find it a struggle to expose yourself in this way and perhaps consider it too scary, then I suggest you try writing a poem. In my experience, poetry is written from that place of pain, and when you write it, somehow you give yourself permission to be vulnerable.

It’s July. Chances are you will be taking a holiday sometime soon. My challenge to you is that you take a beautiful notebook along with you and practise writing from the soul. You never know, you may not just find your voice, you may find yourself too.

Jo

Don’t forget to scroll down to the Writers’ Resources section in this month’s Inspirer See the Workshop Diary for brief details. To catch the news when it happens please sign up to my blog. For a summary of what I’ve been writing about see the On the blog section of this newsletter.

With warm wishes
Jo Parfitt

A Place of Pain

It must be 20 years since I first discovered the words of Natalie Goldberg. In fact, her Writing Down the Bones was the first book on writing I ever bought. It blew me away. Here was a woman who was making a very nice living doing something that to many would be classed as sheer indulgence. She would go and sit in a café, ‘meet at the page’ and just ‘go’. She’d write about whatever popped into her head, inspired by the scene around her or the thoughts in her head. One sentence from her book has stayed with me ever since. It is a sentence that I add to many of my handouts. It is a sentence that makes my stomach do a little flip every time I read it out loud. Here’s what she says:

‘Begin to write in the dumb, awkward way an animal cries out in pain, and there you will find your intelligence, your words, your voice.’

Every time I look at a piece of my writing and think there is something missing I remember this phrase. The best writing should resonate not only with the reader, but with you, the writer. The best writing is emotive. I learned this to my cost last year. Let me tell you the story:

Just over two years ago I decided it was time I wrote a novel, I’d had an idea mooching around in my head for a while and recognised that it was no good leaving it there. I had to put it on the page. So, I started writing. I was quickly ‘in the flow’ and wrote 98,000 words. It was about an expat wife, a bit like me, who found herself in Dubai, just like me, and who wanted to retain her professional identity against all odds, just like me. I knew the topic well. I had been there, done that, got the tee shirt and written the books too. With titles under my belt including Career in Your Suitcase, Find Your Passion and Expat Entrepreneur, I reckoned I had the subject matter sussed. But after months of writing I received some feedback on my work and was told in no uncertain terms that I had got it badly wrong. You see, the thing is, I knew so much about the subject that I had inadvertently written a non-fiction book all over again instead of a novel.

My wonderful mentor, and much-published novelist, Anita Burgh took me to one side and said: “What happened to your poetry and your lyricism, Jo? Where did you go? It’s a story, remember?”

Well, I’m not sure where I had been, but at that moment I knew the place I had to go was back to the drawing board. I binned my 98,000 words and started again, this time from a place of pain. This time I got right inside the head of my main characters and felt their emotions not for them, but with them. In doing so, I was forced to drop my ‘portable career expert’ status and simply start telling the story. In short, I did what Goldberg had been telling me to do for years. To be vulnerable. To be awkward. To feel exposed.

I finished my novel in January, and immediately after, as some of you know, I published my first volume of poetry, A Moving Landscape. Buoyed up by the feeling of relief and freedom that I had gained from writing my novel, I was confident enough to go one step further and show the world my poems too.

I’m with Goldberg. Your best writing and your writer’s voice are to be found when you find your words not in the pen or keyboard but in your heart, your gut, your soul. If you find it a struggle to expose yourself in this way and perhaps consider it too scary, then I suggest you try writing a poem. In my experience, poetry is written from that place of pain, and when you write it, somehow you give yourself permission to be vulnerable.

It’s July. Chances are you will be taking a holiday sometime soon. My challenge to you is that you take a beautiful notebook along with you and practise writing from the soul. You never know, you may not just find your voice, you may find yourself too.

Jo

Books need a wow factor! Find out how to make your book come alive by writing effective anecdotes and case studies. Come and be inspired and empowered when I’m the guest speaker at Storyville in WC2 from 7-9 pm on 29th. Just £15. Details at http://www.thebig-leap.com/storyville.phtml

Could you, should you, write a book?

If this is a question that you often ask yourself, then maybe it’s time to find out. On 9th July I’m running a Special Interest Group workshop for the European Professional Women’s network in Amsterdam. It will cover topics including:
what makes a book sell?
what is a wow factor?
could I really write a book?
what book would make me the most money?
how can a book help me raise my fees?

So, if you need to be inspired, informed and supported hurry and grab your place on this free workshop. led by me, Jo Parfitt, from 7-9pm at the Renaissance Hotel in Amsterdam.

Places are limited and the link is here http://europeanpwn-amsterdam.net/workshops/publish-your-book

a-moving-landscape-cover-web1I am delighted to announce that within minutes of my 26th book being published Craig Toedtman, President of Options Resource Careers in PA ordered 200 copies for his clients.

‘This will be a great addition to our packets….with hopes of many more orders to come!’ wrote Craig in an email to me in which he confirmed his order.

A Moving Landscape is my memoir in poetry of the 21 years I spent overseas, moving from Dubai to Oman, to Norway, England and now to the Netherlands. It tells of reality of culture shock and loss and settling in as well as the immense pleasure I have derived from the variety of landscapes in which I have had the privilege to live.

If you want some inspiration to keep you writing from the Expat Rollercoaster, make sure you don’t miss my monthly column at the Telegraph. My latest one was about being inspired by travel and how to write an effective journal. You can find it here.