Soon after the writing itch came back, I happened across a flyer advertising a multi-week writing workshop in the town where I lived at the time (Columbia, MO). The workshop facilitator was a published writer who lived in my town and, according to the advertisement, the workshop was based on a method called the Amherst Writers & Artists Method.
The Amherst Writers & Artists Method, or AWA Method, is a workshop structure that was developed by a wonderful, inspirational woman named Pat Schneider. It’s essentially a method that involves writers writing in groups and receiving feedback that is only positive. In a typical AWA workshop session, the writers in the group are invited to write for a set amount of time in response to prompts provided by the facilitator. Writers may choose to ignore the prompts and write whatever they feel like writing in the moment; the prompts are only offered to help stir the creative juices. At the end of the timed writing session, the writers in the circle are encouraged—though not required—to read what they’ve written. Following the facilitator’s lead, the participants offer one another feedback that is positive and supportive in nature. What did I like about the story or poem? What was strong about it? What stays with me?
Ms. Schneider understands that most pieces will need to undergo editing before they’re ready for publication. But editing is not the focus of an AWA workshop. The AWA Method is about nurturing writers, helping new writers find their voices, helping experienced writers explore new genres or styles . . . and helping former (i.e., wounded) writers get back into the flow of the writing life.
After I began attending the workshop, my writing output increased dramatically. Not only did my output increase, but the quality of my writing did as well. Finally I began to see some of my pieces get picked up for publication. Although I’m still in the early stages of my writing career, at this point I’ve sold two novels and two novellas to small presses, around a dozen short stories to anthologies or periodicals, a couple dozen children’s audio stories, three children’s chapter books, and two nonfiction books. One of the nonfiction books—a guide I coauthored with my wife—will appear on bookstore shelves across North America later this year.
Nowadays my writing life is much different than it was in those early days. I have a steady stream of writing projects coming my way, and I’ve been able to sell work in multiple genres. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Pat Schneider and the Amherst Writers & Artists community for helping me heal those old writer wounds, and for helping me learn to trust my own writer’s voice. I so love attending the AWA workshops that I sought one out when I first moved from Columbia to the St. Louis area a few years ago. Not finding any active AWA facilitators in the region, I made the decision to travel to Malibu, California last summer to complete the week-long AWA facilitator training. Since receiving my certification, I’ve facilitated a couple of half-day workshops in Kansas City. I also intend to begin offering a multi-week AWA workshop in St. Charles beginning sometime this fall. My hope is that the workshop will offer St. Louis area writers the support and nurturance they need to take their craft to the next level, and ultimately to develop deeply satisfying writing lives.
If you would like more information about the AWA Method, I’d encourage you to visit the organization’s website: www.amherstwriters.com. You may also want to check out Pat Schneider’s book, Writing Alone and With Others (Oxford University Press), in which she describes the AWA Method and some of the success stories of writers in her workshops. If you’re potentially interested in participating in the workshop I’ll be offering locally in the fall, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll provide you all the details as soon as they’re set.
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