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Start Writing workshops are based on the Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) method. Here’s a few questions and answers about the approach, and why taking one of my workshops might be the best-ever thing you do for your writing.

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What happens in a Start Writing workshop?

Unlike most writing courses, Start Writing workshops leave out the lessons and the homework. This is not a passive lecture – from the first session participants are expected to write and share their work with the group. This includes the workshop leader, who writes and reads as an equal participant. When this brand-new, first-draft work is read aloud, it is done with the understanding that no criticism or questions are allowed. As a group we do offer feedback on the pieces we hear, but limit our comments only to what we remember or what stays with us.

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What do we write about?

That’s really up to you. Each exercise begins with a prompt: a suggested starting point for a new piece of writing. These prompts take many forms. They could be quotes, the first line for a story, an object, a picture, an audio track or a video. I often find song lyrics make great prompts. Whatever form the prompt takes, you are free to respond to it directly, modify it, or ignore it completely. There are no grades awarded. The goal is to write as much as you can without worrying about grammar, penmanship, or whether your idea is good enough.

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Why start with prompts?

Prompts are sparks. They are intended to fire up our imagination, which can often be distracted by work, chores, and life’s everyday obligations. Along with time limits, writing with other people and the simple act of showing up at a workshop, prompts help remove many of the pressures we put on ourselves as writers (e.g. when to write, how much to write, what to write about, the quality of our ideas). When we ignore these expectations and focus only on the act of writing, it is amazing how much of our creativity and unique perspective appear on the page. Each exercise, beginning with a prompt and ending with the opportunity to receive instant feedback on your work, allows the writer in each of us to be heard. It is a rewarding experience regardless of your experience level as a writer.

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Where does the AWA method come from?

The AWA method was developed by writer Pat Schneider and is described in her book, Writing Alone and With Others. Amherst Writers & Artists was founded by Pat in 1981, and has grown into a non-profit corporation with four main programs. Over the last 25 years, the AWA method has spread to writing groups across the United States and into Canada and Europe as well.

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What is the AWA philosophy?

It’s a simple one: every person is a writer, and every writer deserves a safe environment in which to experiment, learn, and develop craft.

The AWA method is built on five essential affirmations:

  1. Everyone has a strong, unique voice.
  2. Everyone is born with creative genius.
  3. Writing as an art form belongs to all people, regardless of economic class or educational level.
  4. The teaching of craft can be done without damage to a writer’s original voice or artistic self-esteem.
  5. A writer is someone who writes.

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Who leads the workshops?

My name is David Bester. You can read more about me here. I am writer and editor with 10+ years of freelance writing experience. Slipping back into the first person here, I have spent thousands of pages thinking about writing and creativity. Of all the methods I have come across, I believe the Amherst Writers & Artists approach to be the most effective.

In 2008 I completed a training session to become an AWA-certified writing workshop leader, and continue to use Pat’s framework as the basis for my workshops.

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Where are the workshops held?

Start Writing workshops are held in a large multi-purpose boardroom at 489 College Street (at Bathurst). This nifty brick & beam building is centrally located. Two streetcar options, good parking availability and great coffee joints makes this a truly writer-friendly venue.

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Where can I learn more about the AWA method?

Here’s three suggested links.

Writing Alone and With Others
(Oxford University Press, 2003)

Me, 13 chicks, and a week in Texas
My own thoughts about discovering the AWA method.

Go away, can’t you see I’m writing?
A bang-on column by Cary Tennis at Salon.com about the value of writing workshops. This column was my introduction to the concept of writing in groups, the AWA method, and the trigger that led me to Start Writing.