Why prompts?

I practice and teach a method of writing called the Amherst Writers & Artists method originated by Pat Schneider about thirty years ago in (not surprisingly) Amherst, Mass.—not incidentally also Emily Dickinson’s hometown. Pat believes that all people are born with creative genius, that we are all writers—some of us just don’t know it yet. It is the simplest, most encouraging writing method I’ve ever encountered in all my years of teaching and writing, and I am honored to lead groups in the method and teach it to others.

The AWA method (www.amherstwriters.com) is similar to others in that it offers prompts to writers in groups—writers can respond or write, as we say, whatever needs to be written. But it is unique in that if writers choose to read aloud what they’ve just written, all work is treated is fiction (offering the writer some privacy, particularly around sensitive subjects), and listeners are only allowed to offer the following comments:

• What they like about the writing
• What is strong about the writing
• What stays with the listener about the writing

I teach classes and workshops using the AWA method, and people are always looking for prompts, ways to jumpstart their writing. Some of my favorite prompts are the simplest, as you’ll see in the document in this section called “Gettin’ started prompts.” Some are more complex.

If you’re looking for a place to get started, choose a prompt. Write for ten minutes—or more, if you like. See what happens. Try not to judge your baby words, just born on the page, too harshly. As Pat Schneider says, “You wouldn’t point out the wart on the brand new baby’s nose.” I like to add that your voice is worthy of the page, and the page can take anything you put on it.

As I tell writers (and everyone is one, even you): Write it. Don’t fight it!

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