Amherst Writers & Artists Method
The Amherst Writers & Artists Method is at the heart of Voice & Vessel's writing workshops. The AWA Method took shape in the 1980s, but its roots are in a movement that began in the 1930s. If you're familiar with Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write), Dorthea Brande (Becoming a Writer), Peter Elbow's idea of freewriting, or the practice of morning pages, you've already crossed paths with this approach to writing.
What unites these teachers and practices is the belief that we are all artists and writers. In the AWA Method, we say that a writer is someone who writes. Nothing more, nothing less.
That means that you'll get to write a lot, from the very first day of a workshop. There is something magical about a new writing group coming together and jumping right in to the writing. It lets us begin as equals. Regardless of the writing experience we each carry, we all start with the same empty page.
Claiming Yourself as an Artist/Writer
"Whether your purpose for writing is artistic expression, communication with friends and family, the healing of the inner life, or achieving public recognition for your art — the foundation is the same: the claiming of yourself as an artist/writer and the strengthening of your writing voice through practice, study, and helpful response from other writers."
Founder, Amherst Writers & Artists
Affirmations. Practices. Regularly Practiced.
The Heart of the AWA Method
To help us face the empty page, the Amherst method includes a series of affirmations and practices. These are the tools we use to show up to the page and celebrate each writer's voice. The method also helps create a space where every writer has safety and support to come forward. The affirmations and practices come from Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider, founder of Amherst Writers & Artists:
The Five Essential Affirmations
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.
The Five Essential Practices
A non-hierarchical spirit (how we treat writing) in the workshop is maintained while at the same time an appropriate discipline (how we interact as a group) keeps writers safe. We are peers and fellow writers. In most Voice & Vessel workshops, no one even knows how long another person has written or not or who might be published or not. In group workshops, I keep introductions to first names only with no backstory, so that we truly meet each other in the writing… I believe this creates more space for you to show up wholeheartedly as a writer, in your own way.
Confidentiality about what is written in the workshop is maintained, and the privacy of the writer is protected. All writing is treated as fiction. Even if you’re writing from memory, we’ll respond to the narrator, characters, and speaker in your material, rather than assuming anything about you and your role in the story. This is one of my favorite gifts of the Amherst Writers & Artists method. It makes space for you to meet your material as art and discover creative choices waiting in your memory or imagination. It also ensures that your fellow writers don’t become “armchair psychologists” — we’ll focus what’s happening on the page, rather than probing you for experiences or emotions that might live behind the material. This practice usually helps even the most shy or uncertain writers feel more confident to share, but sharing is always optional.
No criticism, suggestion, or question is directed toward the writer in response to first-draft, just-written work. This is true for the fresh writing we do in Voice & Vessel's generative, group writing workshops online and in Grand Rapids. We listen for what resonates and what calls out to us in the writing. (In those workshops, the writing is new and "hot," so we don't judge what's still emerging. The writer may not even know where it's leading yet!)
In other writing experiences at Voice & Vessel, such as the revision circle, we read each other's writing in advance and prepare a thoughtful and balanced response to share when we meet as a group. In that case, we look at what resonates and what's strong as well as where we see opportunities to improve and deepen the writing.
The teaching of craft is taken seriously and is conducted through exercises that invite experimentation and growth as well as through response to manuscripts.
The leader writes along with the participants and reads that work aloud at least once in each writing session. This practice is essential, for only in this way is there equality of risk taking and mutuality of trust.