Beat the Block: Writer in Residence Jo Parfitt

The Hague Online's 'Writer in Residence' Jo Parfitt is musing about . . .

Beat the Block


Earlier this year I completed work on a full-length novel, inspired by my life overseas and the multicultural environment in which I have the privilege to live. It took almost two full years to write. Now that's not like me. Back in the 80s I could knock a book out in a month. Since then, now I'm a mother and run a business too, it has generally taken me nine months per book from start to finish – just like a baby! But my novel took two years. I am not sure whether I was suffering from writer's block, downright laziness, self-doubt or the lack of a deadline. Maybe it was a combination of all four. Anyway, I did it. I got there in the end. Here's how . . .

I often force myself to write something by setting myself a deadline that I can't wriggle out of. I do this by organising to speak at a conference or to run a workshop and putting in the advertising material that my book will be launched at the event. This has worked brilliantly with my non-fiction books, but the novel was different. I didn't have a publisher lined up this time, and had to write the whole thing before I could begin the hunt for an agent. So, I found myself another budding novelist and made a pact that we would both finish our first drafts by the end of November. I succeeded. She didn't.

So then I needed to find out if it was any good. This time I found another budding novelist, also at the first draft stage and we made a pact that she'd read and critique mine if I did the same for her. We did. And by Christmas we were both armed with a list of things to fix, which, by the end of February, we'd done.

You see, another solution to banishing self-doubt is to get feedback and support. We can all suffer from the imposter syndrome and times when we say to ourselves 'who am I to believe I have the right to write . . ?' So, join a writer's circle and get feedback from others who share your passion for writing, ask an editor to look at your work or a trusted friend. When others have confidence in you, you might just start believing it too.

Here in the Hague there are a few writers' circles up and running already. One meets monthly at the Treehut. So check the group out at:

As for laziness, well we all have bad days, and you need to allow yourself bad days, bad weeks even. But then it is time to stop the excuses and get disciplined. Write something, anything - what Anne Lamott calls 'the shitty first draft'. A shitty first draft is a DRAFT. It means you have got to the end. Now all you have to do is revise it.

Last July my block was at its peak. I'd not written a word for six months. It was not like me and I was desperate. This time I tried something new. I asked Delft-based naturopath Barbara Reale to mix me up some Bach Flower Remedies. These natural drops work at an emotional level and I have no clue how they do that, but what I do know is that within four days I was writing like a maniac. A chapter a day. Barbara can help with all sorts of things from stress and anxiety, insomnia, impatience and even exam nerves. You can find out more about her at

And finally, real writers read, and for me reading books about writing is a great motivator. I love Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird'. Her book is enough to make anyone get back to the keyboard. Sometimes irreverent, often funny and hugely practical, Lamott shares her secrets for getting on with it and getting it written. Try too 'Room to Write' by Bonni Goldberg, which offers 170 or so one page ideas to get the creative juices flowing again. Or read the wonderful 'Writing Down the Bones' by Natalie Goldberg (no relation). Her tips on what I call speed writing are inspirational. Still stuck, try 'Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul' and enjoy the 101 stories therein. If more drastic measures are needed, pledge to do the 12 week course in Julia Cameron's 'The Artist's Way'. You won’t regret it.

So banished is my block these days that since writing the novel I've published my memoirs in poetry too. 'A Moving Landscape' and all the books mentioned here are available on or can be ordered through the American Book Center.

Jo Parfitt

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