When we write, we create, and when we offer our creation to one another, we close the wound of loneliness and may participate in healing the broken world. Our words, our truth, our imagining, our dreaming may be the best gifts we have to give.
—Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and With Others
What is the Amherst Writers and Artists Method?
The Five Essential Affirmations of the AWA Method are:
• Everyone has a strong unique voice.
• Everyone is born with creative genius.
• Writing belongs to all people.
• Teaching can be done without damage to a writer’s original voice or self esteem.
• A writer is someone who writes.
The AWA Method is distinctive in the following ways:
• Everything in the writing workshop is treated as fiction, to minimize the personal vulnerability of the writer. This creates emotional safety and allows us to focus on the writing rather than the writer. We use the terms “the narrator” and “the character” rather than “you.”
• The facilitator writes with the participants and reads aloud along with the other writers.
These practices, along with keeping all writing confidential, responding to just written work with encouragement rather than negative critique, create an environment that is non-hierarchical, honest and safe. Accomplished and beginning writers learn from one another in a generous atmosphere that respects the value of every voice.
In each workshop, we sit and write together in response to prompts and exercises designed to flex our writing muscle and to hone our ability to step out of our own creative way.
We write for 10, 15 or 20 minute increments. We share our new work and receive feedback from others focusing only on 3 main things:
• What is strong
• What we like
• What stays with us about the writing.
We refrain from criticism, questions, suggestions, and personal anecdotes.
There is no critique and no homework.
The philosophy is a simple one: every person is a writer, and every writer deserves a safe environment in which to experiment, learn, and develop craft. The Amherst Writers & Artists’ Method creates a safe and supportive space where writers of all ability levels come together to play on the page.
The AWA method, which is fully described in founder Pat Schneider’s book Writing Alone and With Others (Oxford University Press, 2003, and available at www.patschneider.com), provides just such an environment.
AWA was developed by Pat Schneider in 1982 and born out of a desire to make writing accessible to everyone. This groundswell had already begun with two writers in the 1930’s – both women – who had an early vision of a different way to become and to grow as a writer, Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, and Dorthea Brande, Becoming a Writer. Pat Schneider followed in the heels of these women and considered them the “mothers” of what became later known as “freewriting” (Peter Elbow), “the Amherst Writers & Artists Method” (Pat Schneider) and “morning pages” (Julia Cameron.)
Amherst Writers & Artists holds two things in balance: the writer as an artist, and the use of writing as a methodology to empower the under-served. That balance is its unique genius. And it has its deepest roots in the life of its founder.
“My illiterate Indian grandmother and my grandmother silenced by her position in a family dominated by a gifted but complicated husband, have no voice unless I give them voice. Their stories are lost. How many stories of men and women in prison, in refugee camps, in shelters, homeless, are lost? How many stories of wealthy and middle-class men and women are lost because they have been told they cannot write? Amherst Writers & Artists is about revolution.
It is about changing the ways we define art, until “art” no longer is almost exclusively the expression of those of us with privileged formal education. It is about giving voice to the voiceless, valuing art that is a continuous artesian well, a never-ending stream in the kitchen, the workplace, the intimate conversation. AWA began with an illiterate Indian woman named Elzina Lakey, and a silenced housewife named Emma Ridgway.” —Pat Schneider