As stated on their website, Amherst Writers & Artists “is an international community of writing workshop leaders committed to the belief that a writer is someone who writes and that every writer has a unique voice. AWA trains writers to become workshop leaders so that they affirm that commitment in every AWA workshop, with novice writers who have been led to believe they have no voice and with experienced writers who want to hone their craft.”
The success of the AWA method is rooted in five essential affirmations:
1. Everyone has a strong, unique voice.
2. Everyone is born with creative genius.
3. Writing as an art form belongs to all people, regardless of economic class or educational level.
4. The teaching of craft can be done without damage to a writer’s original voice or artistic self-esteem.
5. A writer is someone who writes.
There are also five essential practices:
1. A nonhierarchical spirit in the workshop is maintained while at the same time an appropriate discipline keeps writers safe.
2. Confidentiality about what is written in the workshop is maintained, and the privacy of a writer is protected. All writing is treated as fiction unless the writer requests that it be treated as autobiography. At all times writers are free to refrain from reading their work aloud.
3. Absolutely no criticism, suggestion, or question is directed toward the writer in response to the first draft, just written work. A thorough critique is offered only when the writer asks for it and distributes work in manuscript form. Critique is balanced; there is as much affirmation as suggestion for change.
4. The teaching of craft is taken seriously and is conducted through exercises that invite experimentation and growth as well as thorough response to manuscripts and in private conferences.
5. The leader writes along with the participants and reads that work aloud at least once in each writing session. This practice is absolutely necessary, for only in that way is there equality of risk taking and mutuality of trust.