How to jump-start your career as a writer: Start writing

Listening to Metro Morning, a CBC radio program on weekday mornings, a few months ago, I heard the host of the show say something like, “Authors only make an average of $10,000 a year.” Talk about feeling that pit in my stomach!

Working in public relations and content curating while making this blog a thing during my off-hours, I basically spend my life writing. Yes, I have a salary that is greater than $10,000 a year, but it scares me to think that if, somewhere down the line, I want to become a novelist or a short story writer or someone who writes people’s biographies – all jobs I’ve considered – I might get paid such a little amount.

How do writers eat?

By watching Gossip Girl, I should know that writers do not really have exquisite lives. Dan Humphrey lived a very romantic, Brooklyn life with really nice tote bags and that’s pretty much it. I’d be fine with that, except I sound like every other person who wants to be a writer: In love with the romanticism that surrounds the profession. Not once did I mention hardships like little pay, writer’s block, criticism, negative feedback, rejection or edits a writer may not agree with.

My family’s accountant once told me that the industry I was hoping to get into wouldn’t allow me to put food on the table.

In fourth year university, an unsupportive professor told me I couldn’t write. He was evaluating me on a personal reflection.

I could keep going, but I’ll spare you.

David Bester with his dog, Milo. Photo Credit: David Bester.
David Bester with his dog, Milo. Photo Credit: David Bester.

On January 13, I spoke with Toronto writer, David Bester. He’s been making a career out of writing for the last 15 years. Hats off to you, sir! A freelance writer with experience in corporate communication, Bester has been leading creative writing workshops in the city since 2009 through his company,

There’s something unique about his workshops, though. They use the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) methodology.

“My workshops offer a non-critical, no homework environment,” Bester says, explaining the true nature of AWA. “There is no right or wrong. The structure is to write without expectation. If you can do that [as a writer], great things can happen.”

Traditionally, Bester’s workshops offer a prompt at the start, before giving attendees somewhere under half-an-hour to write. When the time’s up, writers share their work.

“We may not yet know why we wrote what we did, so the content is not ready for questions or suggestions for improvement. We have a rule in place to assume all content shared is fiction, even though what we write about could be something from our past, for example. Feedback offered in the workshops is based on what participants remember, which tells the writer that they have been heard – that there is something in their work that stayed with the audience,” Bester says.

Writers, and those of us in other creative industries, often don’t experience many situations in which work is not judged. Bester says this safe opportunity gives writers confidence by proving they can write. He also says this workshop-style helps kick-start creativity.

“Criticism can shut us down,” Bester says. “I suffered from this. If you grew up reading a lot of books and you try to write something that’s perfect in your head and it doesn’t come out that way, it can be soul crushing. The immediate response is: ‘I don’t want to feel this way.’ There’s one way to make sure you never have this soul crushing feeling. And that’s not to write.” will give writers the feeling that they can experiment and take risks with their writing without the fear of being judged. For even the most experienced writer, this is really important.

Bester says, “Nobody should be told they can’t write because they don’t have the experience or can’t reach an audience. If you take writing away from groupies and pay and publishing – it is just putting words together.

For only the second time in history, Bester will be hosting a workshop called “10 Self-Portraits” in Toronto today, Saturday, January 17. This workshop is inspired by a gallery of self-portraits in London, England that featured over 60 selfies with emphasis on the notion that there are many components to a person. I’ve italicized the “s” word because clearly, this gallery presents more than just an Instagram wall.

David Bester's "10 Self-Portraits" workshop takes place for the second time in history in Toronto on Saturday, January 17. Photo via:
David Bester’s “10 Self-Portraits” workshop takes place for the second time in history in Toronto on Saturday, January 17. Photo via:

This appealed to Bester, who then adapted the gallery into a workshop of his own so artists who want a better understanding of who they are and how they fit in the environment around them can do just that! “We never give a lot of time to things like that,” Bester says. “We’re always writing about other things.”

“10 Self-Portraits” will be held at 489 College St., one block west of Bathurst St. from 1:00pm to 5:00pm. It will begin with 10 short open-ended writing exercises, each leading to the other in a linear fashion. Without wanting to give too much away, Bester says the workshop will start with a question like, “Who are you?” and possibly end with, “How do we get what we learned about ourselves and put it into our writing?”

Though completely sold out, Bester aims to host another of these stand-alone sessions in late spring and encourages all those interested to register online once details have been confirmed. The cost for the workshop is $55.

“A self portrait is an attempt to capture a moment of ourselves as honestly as we can. We always say we want to be honest, but we can lie when we begin to write about things [other than ourselves],” Bester says, explaining the benefits for writers participating in “10 Self-Portraits.”

Bester has seen people, mostly women, from 16-years-old to their mid-80s participate in his workshops. Despite the age and gender gap, Bester calls a writer simply someone who writes.

“When I hear someone runs, I don’t assume that they run every week,” he says. “When I hear someone drives, I don’t assume they are a Formula 1 racecar driver. With writing, there is such an expectation to it. When people asked if I’m a writer, they ask if I’ve been published. Someone who plays basketball…I don’t assume they are in the NBA.”

In other words, Bester’s workshops are perfect for any creative person looking to learn more about themselves, about writing and about how to produce new, unique content.

For those of us in our 20s who are looking to experience something new, Bester says this (keep in mind, this quote was my favourite part of my interview with the Toronto writer, thus why I’m leaving it with you last).

“What’s great about your 20s is that there’s a great deal of experimentation going on. What will you do socially? For your job? Where will you live? There are a lot of really great life experiences. They are worth capturing. It doesn’t mean they are worth capturing because someone will buy your journal and know how fascinating you were when you left school. These moments are really important. If you can capture them, these thoughts will be really valuable to you as a writer and as a person. It is great to see how these things will become memories and change over time.”

Have you ever taken a writing workshop? Tell us what you learned by leaving a comment!

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