Writing saved my life

November 9, 2009

Thank goodness I am a writer. If I weren’t then I doubt I’d have survived this merrygoround they call a mobile life. In the last 28 years I’ve lived in 6 different countries with four different languages, lost my identity and found it again. Boy, am I glad I ‘saved’ my life. Not only in the form of my memoir, a Moving Landscape, but using writing as a form of therapy has been a godsend. Read my post on the superb Expat Harem blog here and be sure to have your say . . .

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The following article also appears in my monthly Inspirer newsletter, designed to inspire, support and inform writers. If you would like to receive your copy each month please sign up at my website www.joparfitt.com and pick up a copy of 50 Steps to a Book in Your Hand at the same time.

Here goes:

When it’s time to leave home

I’ll cut straight to the chase and tell you about the thing that has dominated my thoughts since my last newsletter. My son has left home. It was not unexpected. It was inevitable, anticipated, we were prepared. Last year he completed his A levels and the year before he had applied to university in London and been accepted. He started packing the moment he heard he’d got the grades he needed. But when it was time to wave him off, two days ago, it was no less heartbreaking for me. Sam, on the other hand, had a new life to lead, alone, without me to wash his clothes and check he had enough to eat. But even as we drove off through the streets of Islington, back to the Eurotunnel, I could not suppress a slight smile of recognition, that this sweet sorrow mirrors my life as a writer.

You see, they say that a painting, like a piece of writing, is never finished, it just stops in an interesting place. They say that there comes a time when the editing must stop. A time when you actually make things worse by over-refining them. A time when you have to let them go. There comes a time when you must admit you have done your bit leave your work to find its own way.

A couple of weeks before Sam left, I had a day when the enormity of the hole his departure would leave in my life and my nest kept creeping up on me, like the children tiptoeing behind me in a game of What’s the Time Mr Wolf? I had climbed into bed with sinking heart and picked up the copy of The Muses Among Us, by Kim Stafford, that lay on my bedside table. It opened on page 38. I read:

‘One day, it is time for the child to leave home. To remain longer would reverse the principle of healthy growth. That day comes when the child is mature enough to go out into the world, and the parent has other things to do. In the terrifying words of Donald Graves, we should not linger so long with a piece of writing that we begin “giving a manicure to a corpse.”‘

Since reading those lines my feelings about the departure of my firstborn became calmer. If could totally empathise with Stafford’s beliefs as a writer then it followed that if it was time to let go of my son, it was time to let go.

Back in May I had finally finished my novel and realized that it was time I stopped trying to improve it and let it go, too. I printed out a synopsis, cover letter and three sample chapters, put it in a padded bag and sent it out into the world. It is now doing the rounds of the agents. Sure, I keep thinking about it, missing the days I spent writing it, lost in a parallel universe with my characters. But I know I was right to let it leave home.

In my experience as a writer’s mentor, I have seen many instances where overworking ends up spoiling a very good piece of writing. Sure, you have to ‘murder your children’, as they say, and cut some of the best bits. Sure, you have to cut superfluous or empty words, repetition and to keep things simple. But there comes a time when you can cut too much and may have nothing left. I am also a firm believer in the principle that often the thing you think of first may be the best and that, as Hamlet says in the ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy: ‘the native hue of resolution //is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.’ It can be dangerous to think about something too much or too long.

And so, as I sit at my desk in the knowledge that we now have a spare bedroom again, I ask you to think about your writing, to let it flow, to try not to stunt its growth and to recognise when it is time to let it go.

Jo

If you like this, and would like more of the same, take a look at the Publishing Academy, where I am a faculty member. It is packed with information and inspiration for writers, just like this.

The Greatest Block of All

August 27, 2009

Years ago I discovered the work of American, Sheila Bender. Sheila wrote two of my favourite ever books to inspire writers: Writing in a New Convertible with the Top Down and Keeping a Journal You Love. Recently, I found Sheila online at her website Writing it Real and got in touch. I was delighted to discover that Sheila really is real and kind and honest. She asked me if I would write something about my biggest challenge as a writer for her subscriber newsletter. I agreed and Sheila, being the kind person that she is, agreed to post a special non-subscriber version just for you. So, please take a look at Writing at Real when you have a moment and please, take a look at my piece. I think you will enjoy it and maybe even learn something . . .

here it is:

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

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.

Maybe I’m mad to be doing this? Why would I want to give away my secrets for free? Maybe I’m just feeling generous? Maybe it’s because November is officially National Novel Writing Month? Or maybe I want to give my 2009 Writing Your Life Story workshops a bit of extra promotion?

Anyway, during November I am thrilled to be giving several free (OK, I admit it, one does have a minimum charge and another asks for donations to NaNoWriMo) workshops in The Hague.

Here are the dates, places and times. Don’t miss them. They may never happen again ….

Tuesday 4th November, 10-12, At the Expatriate Archive Centre, Paramaribostraat 20
Out of the Boxes – start telling your life story – Find out how to turn your life stories into words that will inspire others for blogs, newsletters, diaries, emails or a full length memoir.
Book via welcome@xpatarchive.com or Jo Parfitt
Places limited

Saturday 8th November, 2-3, Treehut, The American Bookcentre, Lange Poten
How to Beat the Block and Hang on In There – Learn how to tell those inner critics and naysayers to get outta here and crack on with your writing projects.
No need to book
Donations to NaNoWriMo welcome

Saturday 8th November, 3-5, Treehut, The American Bookcentre, Lange Poten
Writer in Residence – come along with your questions or your work for my comment.
Book your 15 minute time slot on the day itself
Places limited
Donations to NaNoWriMo welcome

Monday 17th November, 10-12, Women’s Business Initiative, Laan Copes van Cattenburch 86
Could you have a book in you? – Nothing gives a your business more of a boost than a book written by you. Could you write one that raises your profile and your reputation without breaking the bank? Find out here.
Book via info@womensbusinessinitiative.net or Jo Parfitt

Tuesday 25th November, 10-12, American Women’s Clubhouse Living Room
Write Your Life Stories – writer and publisher Jo Parfitt teams up with editor and designer Karin Harms to present this interactive and inspiring workshop that will give you the ingredients for writing compelling life stories.
Book via AWC
€10 members / €15 non members
Places limited

For more information please go to Expat Rollercoaster and look at the Workshop page