Last update on January 30, 2019

“We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand,” wrote CS Lewis. We believe writing can benefit expats.

When my sons were teenagers, I taught them to speedwrite; the free-writing method advocated by inspirers Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) and Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones). Boys are not well-known for their ability to express themselves, and I wanted to do what I could to give them an outlet for what was going on in their heads – and so they started to journal. I had an inkling that this skill would help my third-culture millennial kids have a better chance of navigating the choppy waters of their future.

Writing helps

Women sitting having coffee

Writing is therapeutic. Keeping a “gratitude journal” is known to be a good way to climb out of a depressive episode; it is a practice I have used myself. Sharing how you feel with the page has proven to be beneficial in many ways.
In 2012, Brigham University conducted five studies led by Nathaniel M Lambert into the effects sharing, verbally and in diary-form, had on happiness. Entitled A Boost of Positive Affect, the Perks of Sharing Positive Experiences, it concludes that writing about positive events boosts mood and that the subsequent sharing of the ‘story’ increases it further. Both methods have an enduring effect on the writer.

Writing heals

When Kristin Louise Duncombe, an American expatriate in Geneva, discovered she had a stage 2 melanoma, her children were aged just one and seven. She realized it was now or never with the book she had always wanted to write. Trailing – A Memoir is the result, now followed by Five Flights Up.

“I had to get that story off my chest, to make sense of it and to make use of it. I had been telling the story in my head for many years,” she disclosed in a recent interview. “All of my angst poured into the other thing that I became terrified of: not living long enough to write that book.”

As a psychotherapist, Kristin recognized the power of narrative therapy as a healing method.

“I hate small talk and sugar-coating…I like to just get straight to the heart of the matter, even if it is painful or embarrassing. I know that however soul-baring my words are, other people will relate because nothing I have written about is unique to me. It’s just universal human stuff. I feel free and even safe by just putting it out there – like there is nothing that I need to fear being outed about, as I have just gone ahead and admitted it all!”

Kristin is convinced that writing helps “strip away existential despair”. I write my journals in order to learn more about myself. It is a way to look inside my head and discover what is really going on.

Beyond speedwriting

Ten years on, my boys, now in their twenties, still keep their journals. Speedwriting is a tool I have now been using for more than 30 years to make sense of stuff, to celebrate the good and to unravel tricky the emotions. Having lived abroad for 30 years, writing has saved my life both literally and metaphorically.

Everywhere I have lived – Dubai, Muscat, The Hague, Stavanger, Kuala Lumpur – I have set up and run a free Writers’ Circle. I have run countless writing workshops and now run Writing Me-Treats that last several days. No session is ever complete with a few minutes of speedwriting and an hour or so of sharing and feedback. Attendees claim to love these events, and many come back time and again. Now, I can see why: it is not that I sprinkle magic dust over them. No; it’s the simple fact that they get the chance to write down what matters to them and share it.
Attend a writing retreat

Find out more about the Writing Me-Treats at its website and on The next Writing Me-Treat takes place in the Netherlands, with others planned for the summer in France and England:

The Hague: 11-15 March
France: 11-15 May
Devon, England: 7-12 July

In the Netherlands, there is a wealth of opportunity for writers. Lisa Friedman runs a host of writing workshops in Amsterdam through her business Amsterdam Writers, and Astrid Burchardt runs workshops on creative life writing in Delft beginning in March.

For residential writing courses outside the Netherlands, look at The Watermill at Posara for residential courses in Tuscany, Italy, and the Arvon Foundation, UK-based writing programme.