By JO PARFITT
I started a diary at 11 years old, excitement such as ‘got up, had breakfast, went to school’. When adolescence caught me in its clutches my journaling went up a gear.
Private writing became my friend, my confidante and my saviour when I became a serial expat in 1987, following my brand new husband from the UK to Dubai.
I could ramble away, examining my thoughts, dreams, ideas, pain and joy, even before I knew the value of writing as therapy and how the defining moments in our lives become our personal story.
Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones started me on that journey, with Sheila Bender’s Writing it Real and Anne Lamott of Bird by Bird rekindling my motivation whenever it waned. Once these gurus of stream-of-consciousness urged me to ignore the inner critic and just write, even for ten minutes a day, I gave myself permission to express what needed to be said.
Back then in Dubai, I thought I had said goodbye to my career thanks to a stamp in my passport: ‘wife not permitted to work’. I turned to poetry with telling titles like ‘Nihil’ and ‘The Box’. (In 2009 a lifetime of poetry became my memoir, A Moving Landscape.)
In Oman I discovered The Artist’s Way and the therapeutic value of speedwriting. Jobless again, in Norway, I began a journal to my children, then three and five, which surpasses any photographs, video or personal diary of that time and place. Now in the Netherlands, I’m sharing everything I’ve learned with students in a workshop about writing life story.
My private expat journals have become the rich source for books, articles and columns. Publishing them has allowed me to retain my professional identity, despite crisscrossing the globe.
When you feel unmoored has writing ever saved your life — figuratively or literally?
Jo Parfitt is a writer, author of 50 Steps to a Book in Your Hand, speaker, publisher and writers’ mentor currently based in The Hague, Netherlands.