I put the piece below together for some of the grad students I teach, many of whom will be heading to AWP for the first time next week. I thought it might be useful for us all as we hit the road for our annual conference/homecoming for writers.
The first time I went to AWP, I was terrified and overwhelmed. There were so many people there, all of them trying to accomplish all of the same things I was! Suddenly, everything I imagined for myself seemed impossible. I wondered: How am I going to succeed as a writer when there are all of these other folks I have to compete against.
Here’s the thing, though. Art is not a zero-sum game. The more of it there is, the better the world is. After many years, and lots of trial and error, I’m now able to see AWP in a very different way: as chance to connect with other folks who are as excited to geek out over writing as I am.
My mantra these days: Go with an attitude of curiosity, connection, and kindness. Some tips for this:
- If you’re a planner (like me!), you can build yourself a schedule ahead of time using the tools here, here, and here.
- If you find yourself in a panel that isn’t what you thought it would be or doesn’t seem useful to you, it’s completely okay to sneak out if you can do so unobtrusively. If you think this is likely to be the case, try to snag a seat in the back and on an aisle if at all possible. You can check out another panel (again, if you can sneak in unobtrusively) or roam the book fair.
- Almost all panels will have a time during which the audience can ask questions. Before raising your hand to ask your question, check in with yourself first, and ask: Is my question a real question, or is it an attempt to center my experience and/or work?
- Food at the convention center is expensive, and you may not want to stop for lunch. Pack yourself a healthy snack. (Can you tell I’m a mom?)
- Be kind to the people tabling in the book fair. Whatever kind of a long day you’re having, theirs is probably longer and filled with more awkward interactions. Should you find yourself book-fair chatting with an editor who has rejected you or has been sitting on a piece for quite some time, stifle the urge to tell them this. Instead, tell them something you like about their journal: the cover, the design, a piece you admired in it.
- Follow up after the event—reach out to the folks you enjoyed meeting, whose panel you found especially helpful, etc. Tell them what you appreciated!
- Buy books and journals if you can; if you’re on a tight budget, note that nearly everything will be deeply discounted on Saturday as the conference comes to a close.
- If you’re an introvert, pace yourself, but don’t hide out. You may want to make use of the conference’s Dickinson Quiet Space.
- If you need other accommodations, you can learn about them here.
- Treat the conference as an opportunity for genuine connection rather than a networking event. People can sense naked self-promotion and ambitious angling. You’re in a room with almost everyone across this country who cares as much about creative writing as you do! Try to enjoy that as an experience.
- Remember: as big and as overwhelming as it may seem while you’re there, the writing world is small, and these folks will be your colleagues for the rest of your career: behave accordingly (including and especially at evening and offsite events).
- Keep an eye out for folks who seem to be terrified and overwhelmed, and if you can, invite them to join you and your friends for a conversation, a meal, an offsite event.
Looking forward to seeing you all there, and if you find yourself feeling lost or lonesome, I hope you’ll reach out. My AWP dancecard is is always a more-the-merrier one, and you’re welcome to tag along with whatever I’m up to.
Safe travels, everyone! See you in Seattle!