San Benito Lifestyle

BenitoLink reporter participates in a local writing lab

Arts Council creates safe space for sharing personal expression.
Writers working. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut
Writers hard at work. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.

Throughout the school year, a group of creative writers gathers in Hollister on Wednesday evenings for a writing lab. It’s an initiative sponsored by the San Benito County Arts Council for writers working in different genres and forums to express themselves.

As a member of the writers’ lab, I write from a student’s perspective alongside a core group of nine other wordsmiths, which at times reaches a total of 15. The group, led by Amanda Chiado, Arts Council director of education and a member of California Poets in the Schools, meets weekly to discuss writing, critique members’ work and free-write on a given theme or topic.

The group is free-spirited and nothing is off the table. We can write what we want in the form we want to—that is prose, poetry or other. Each writer puts their soul to their work, and each receives respectful feedback from the others.

“There is a lot of passion and everyone feels safe,” said writer Marie Reed, who has been with the group since its start in fall 2017.

Chiado agreed. “The feeling comes from trust.”

This safety allows participating writers to be vulnerable, a state that for many, myself included, allows for more personal writing, expressing feelings that are not expressed in regular conversation.

“It centers me,” said writer Cristina Gomez, who joined the group a few months ago. She added that she once felt writing for pleasure was indulgent, but no longer feels that way because she sees personal value in it.

Though Chiado is the group facilitator, she is always ready to have another member take the lead. She invites writers to bring themes or pieces of work to lead the group in discussion and free writing. She said she has seen everyone’s writing grow through the process.

Feedback on the work can sometimes be nerve-racking. Yet the group, while honest and helpful, is always respectful.

“I like how I get feedback,” said writer Emily Smith.

Comments are given for work brought to class or composed in class. Knowing that others are going to hear your writing as soon as you put down the pen, knowing they will hear your raw words, encourages you to think differently about writing.

“There is something special about writing with other people,” said Reed.

As a creative writer, I find the lab helpful and look forward to it every week. I know I will walk through the door to warmth and commitment. I will walk through the door to a challenge and creativity, but most of all I know I will walk through the door to acceptance.

The writing lab is held at the San Benito Arts Council Annex building, 217 Fifth St. in Hollister. The lab is on summer break, but will resume in late August. In future sessions, it plans to cover dialogue and character development. For more information, call (831) 636-2787.



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Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.