Welcome to joanwalters.com

This site introduces the empowering  writing method developed by Pat Schneider,  the writer, poet, playwright and editor behind Amherst Writers and Artists.

Schneider believed everyone is born with creative genius and that each of us deserves to see it realized.

Pat Schneider 1934-2020

AWA workshops have been running in all parts of the world for more than 30 years.

They are are calm, safe spaces that promote respect for the artist in all writers.

The method can also help participants work through emotions, relieve stress, and discover hidden strengths.  Many AWA facilitators work with community service agencies to provide a powerful, non-clinical mode of support for their members.

The AWA method celebrates voice inclusive of race, ethnicity, class, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical ability, and mental health, with a strong focus on underserved populations and traditionally underheard voices.

Scroll through these pages for more information.

About Amherst Writers & Artists

AWA is an international, not-for-profit, community-based writing organization.

Its writing workshop leaders / affiliates are committed to the belief that a writer is someone who writes and that every writer has a unique voice.

AWA workshops follow a proven method that affirms writers by building confidence, creating an atmosphere of equal exploration, and protecting confidentiality.

Author Pat Schneider established and grew the methodology while working with women in a housing project in Chicopee, Massachusetts.

This work rises from that legacy of working with the under-served, the marginalized and the oppressed, especially those with interrupted educations.  You can find the AWA method in elementary, high school, and college classrooms, in churches, hospitals, prisons, women’s shelters, inner city community projects and hundreds of other environments. Writers’ groups have also recently formed online.

Read much more about AWA here.

About the AWA Method


“The AWA method… cracked open my world and spilled it with all of its light and darkness onto paper. It created a safe and supportive haven for my writing to flourish in poetry, in fiction, in memoir.” – from Annabelle Murray, on the AWA website


AWA workshops inspire and support you to find your authentic voice and to experiment without fear of criticism or judgment. The method was developed by writer Pat Schneider, who describes it in her book Writing Alone and With Others , published by Oxford University Press.


  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.

Workshops are safe, encouraging, and creative places that usually begin with the leader offering a writing prompt – the suggested starting point for a new piece of writing (by hand in a notebook or on your device)

  • From Memory or Imagination:  A prompt could be a word, a sentence, an object, even a piece of music. But if the prompt doesn’t speak to you, you can write anything you want.
  • Everyone Writes: Groups are usually no larger than a dozen people, writing together in silence for short bursts (10 minutes) or longer, maybe half an hour.
  • Invited but not Mandatory: Everyone is invited to share their just written “first draft” writing.  You are free to decline and just listen to other people’s writing.
  • Deeply Listen: We share our thoughts by telling each other what we liked, what remained with us and what was strong about each piece of writing. There are no questions, no critiques and no challenges to what you write.


The following practices establish a safe environment where everyone is free to explore within their own writing and listen to each other with respect.

  1. Everyone’s writing is treated with equal respect and value.
  2. Writing is kept confidential and treated as fiction.
  3. Writers can refrain from reading their work aloud.
  4. Responses to just-written work reflect what is strong and successful.
  5. Responses and exercises support the development of literary craft.
  6. When Listening in an AWA workshop we enter the universe that the writer has created and leave our assumptions behind.  We listen without preconceived ideas about what the story should be about, how the poem should sound, or what we might do differently.

To find an AWA workshop,  go to the calendar here

About Joan Walters

AWA Changed my Writing Life

I am a certified Amherst Writers & Artists affiliate, which means I’m formally trained in the AWA method to lead workshops. The method frees your voice and your hand to write from imagination and from memory.  It works.

My writing life changed when I went to my first Amherst Writers & Artists workshop – after years of trying to get my inner artist going.

I am a journalist. I wrote daily with a hand well-practiced in my craft. But I also slogged  away in personal journals for years without feeling I was writing  anything creative.

Then I joined an AWA group and finally started to go somewhere. Read about the AWA Method here .

About me:

I live half time in Toronto and half time in Collingwood (southern Georgian Bay).

I ‘m currently building a writing workshop practice with non-profit organizations in and the U.S.

I have a Master’s Degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago.

I have written for newswire sevices in Canada and the U.S., and across Canada for major newspaper chains. I trained groups of young journalists in the newsroom for many years.

My undergraduate degree is in Social Work and I have always been an advocate for the unheard and the unseen through volunteer work.

Art is a long-time passion. I have blogged for more than a decade on Canadian Art Junkie.  This is what my daily life was once like in newsrooms. 

It’s much calmer now.

Kaz Novak, TorStar-Metroland Media

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