Margaret A O'Brien creative writing

I live in the Suir valley in south-east Ireland, half an hour from the Waterford coast and within sight of Sliabh na mBan. I have been a lecturer in Waterford Institute of Technology from 2002 to 2019, for the first ten years in the Literacy Development Centre, WIT, lecturing in Adult Literacy Studies and latterly in the School of Humanities, WIT where my subjects included English Literature and Creative Writing.  My discovery of the work of Pat Schneider and her organisation, Amherst Writers & Artists, allowed me to merge my twin passions – writing and teaching. I’ve been leading my own creative writing workshops since 2008, mainly in Brewery Lane Theatre. I also curate the Brewery Lane Writers’ Weekend and the monthly Poetry Plus night. In 2014 I co-founded, with Nollaig Brennan, The Story House Ireland, a residential writing centre inspired by The Arvon Foundation, ‘where anyone can experience the transformative power of writing’.

Writing changes my life

‘Writing is a way of saying you and the world have a chance.’ Richard Hugo

We all love stories and in our everyday life we tell stories all the time. But too often we don’t think of ourselves as storytellers. Or that we have something worth saying. A few years ago I came across the work of Pat Schneider and it was an ‘aha’ moment for me. Pat founded the organisation Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) about thirty years ago in the US and wrote a book called Writing Alone and With Others which details her philosophy, her approach to writing, and her teaching method, which is full of wisdom and compassion. It’s different from most other books on writing creatively in that it explicitly acknowledges the very real obstacles that hinder the artist in very many people. The obstacles of poverty, interrupted education and so on.

Now you don’t have to have any of those obstacles in your life to benefit from Pat’s method, but she pulls no punches in laying out what must be done if, as she states, ‘writing as an art form belongs to all people, regardless of economic class or educational level.’ She insists that ‘the privilege of voice carries with it a responsibility to speak for social justice’.

Her belief that ‘writing as an art form belongs to all people, regardless of economic class or educational level’ resonated deeply with me and I began to see it as a missing link in adult literacy practice as I knew it. And perhaps an oblique answer to some of the questions that bothered me. For example, why does the education system as it currently exists fail so many? I discovered that AWA offered training in facilitating writing workshops using Pat’s method and they were offering their first training session outside of the USA in Ireland later that year. To my amazement the venue was just ten minutes drive from my hometown in Co. Tipperary. I couldn’t sign up quickly enough.

All the writing workshops I’ve led since have demonstrated to me the truth of Pat Schneider’s 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.

These affirmations have formed the bedrock of my teaching of creative writing.  I’ve incorporated it into my work as a Lecturer in Adult Literacy Studies in Waterford Institute of Technology – training teachers in best practice in adult literacy education. I’ve also used it in working with community education groups and, of course, the many other groups I’ve had the pleasure of writing with, from Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick-on-Suir to a writing group on Inis Mór in the Aran Islands and many places in between. It’s been an exciting time. As Peter Elbow said, ‘Pat Schneider’s book makes you want to sit down and start writing.’

Formal Qualifications:

awa affiliate

I hold an Honours Degree in English Literature, an M.A. in Education, an Advanced Diploma in Language & Literacy, a Graduate Diploma in Adult Education, and a Diploma in Literature & Creative Writing. I am an affiliate of both Amherst Writers and Artists (USA) and Amherst Writers Ireland, and I’m licensed to use the method developed by Pat Schneider in my writing workshops.