The AWA Method (Amherst Writers)

“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.

Marian Calabro

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 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 fortunate to have been part of this cohort. Most memorable of all, I wrote 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.