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Awa method of creative writing

The AWA Method

“I really enjoyed our workshop. I was blown away by how listening and commenting instead of criticizing, and focusing on all the writing as fiction, worked so well for me.” — Jay C.

Pat Schneider (third from left) with AWA leaders Sue Reynolds, Marian Calabro, and Maggie Butler at Pat’s Amherst home in 2015.

The Amherst Writers method creates a setting that is safe, non-competitive, and open to risk-taking. Fresh, vivid writing easily springs up in such an environment. Art comes first, a crucial element too often lacking in other approaches. In the words of AWA founder Pat Schneider: “Craft is knowing when to revise a manuscript and when to leave it alone, but art is the fire in the mind that puts the story on the page in the first place.”

Typical workshop format:

  • We write during the workshop, in response to the leader’s exercises or our own ideas.
  • We read our first-draft writing aloud to each other if we wish.
  • We treat all writing as fiction—the key differentiator of the AWA method.
  • We respond with what we remember, what we like, how the writer surprised us, and how he or she made us care.
  • If the workshop cycle includes manuscript review, we can develop longer pieces and critique them with our fellow writers.
  • We learn to recognize, cultivate, and trust our individual voices.

You can read more about this approach at amherstwriters.org/philosophy, www.patschneider.com, and in Pat’s seminal book Writing Alone and with Others (Oxford University Press).

Pat Schneider mentored me, and I feel a special personal connection with her. My AWA certification and post-certification groups (2004-2005) were the last to be conducted entirely by her. I consider myself very fortunate to have been part of this cohort. Most memorable of all, I have written with Pat in many of her weekend workshops. Pat’s voice and wisdom resonate in my mind as I lead and write in my own groups.

The AWA Method

In my workshops I use the Amherst Writers & Artists method. AWA is an international writing organization founded on the belief that everyone is a writer. For over thirty years, AWA has supported practiced and emerging voices through a proven workshop method. The essential affirmations are these:

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

My workshops offer space and time for you to find and develop your own unique writing voice. I offer a prompt (a poem, a quote, a picture, an object, etc), then everyone writes for a period of time. We write from memory and imagination. One writer might write poetry, another might write a scene between characters. Writers are free to ignore the prompt and work on whatever they wish if something else bubbles up. We then have time to share what has just been written, if desired. No one has to read aloud, but because of the way we give feedback, most writers find it powerful to do so. We listen carefully for what is strong, and what is working in the piece, and offer our responses to the writer. We don’t criticize new, just-written work. Instead, we help one another see the strengths in our writing. A more balanced critique can be part of special sessions during some series, if desired by writers.

To allow us as artists to take risks and go deep, following wherever our memory or imagination take us, we treat all writing as story/fiction/art, in the workshop. Even if a writer uses the first person “I” narrator, we focus on the writing itself, not on the writer. Within the safety of this environment, we are free to explore and create.

In my own years as a participant in an AWA workshop, I’ve surprised myself at the creativity and truth that comes out of my pen, and been astounded at the art that comes from the pens of my companions. I hope you will join me to find your own creative genius.

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Upcoming Opportunities

I’ll be leading a workshop for the Women’s Connection Conference at Montreat, NC in August (13th-15th.) Come join me for my workshop Playing with Words: Writing for Wholeness, and hear Jen Hatmaker as the keynote speaker for Word Wise: Encountering the Word that Draws Us In and Sends Us Out.

Check back for more online and in person chances to write in company with me.

Recent Workshops

I led a six week series of writing sessions over Zoom on Writing for Resilience for First Presbyterian Church, Asheville as a small group gathering.

I led a one-night workshop on Writing through Loss and Change at First Presbyterian Church in Asheville, NC, as part of a series on practices to help deal with transitions in life.

I led a weekly Lenten writing series at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Our prompts were from scripture, poetry, pictures, and more.

I co-led a weekend series of workshops with Carol Henderson at Myers Park Presbyterian Church. We explored the idea of Writing toward Wholeness, and Paying Attention with five sessions: Memory and Meaning, Grief and Gratitude, Pausing and Playing, Fear and Faith, and Love and Loss.