Originally published in the AWA Newsletter – April 2019

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust… Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” ~ e.e. cummings

The AWA way of facilitating writing workshops is unique and the outcomes are impressive. All of us who are leading workshops have seen people claim their voices, and their truths as they write in this method. I often hear the term “life-changing” when a series of workshops is over.

Recently I was doing a training in the psychotherapy modality Hakomi and I learned something that electrified me. One of the trainers quoted Dr. Bonnie Badenach, Ph.D., LMFT and a teacher of Interpersonal Neurobiology. Dr. Badenach says that there are three basic questions each one of us is asking in any important relationship.

  • Are you there?
  • Do you see me?
  • Do you choose me?

An AWA workshop provides the opportunity for those questions to be answered reliably in a positive way – sometimes for the first time in a writer’s life.

The first, “are you there?” is answered in the way the group listens and responds. The AWA workshop participants and facilitator are present, alert and focused on each writer in turn.

The second question, “Do you see me?” is answered positively by the practice of offering back to the writer what has been heard – the impact that the writing has had on the listeners and the words and images that stay with us.

And the final question, “Do you choose me?” (which can also be framed as “Am I okay? Do you care about me (and my story)? Can I rely on you?) is answered positively by the way we only comment (in situations of writing on the spot) on what’s already strong in the story, what’s already working in the piece of writing.

When I am involved in a training for AWA, almost inevitably the question comes up from one or more participants: “I’m concerned that I don’t know enough about writing, or about literature to be a good facilitator.”

The answer I give is some version of, “You don’t have to be the most gifted writer in the room, but it will stand you in good stead if you are one of the best listeners.”

I am grateful every day for having found this meaningful work, and grateful to be part of this extraordinary community of gifted writers and listeners.

Sue Reynolds
Vice Chair
Amherst Writers Board