A Love Letter About Writing Conferences
I am brain dead.
I’m writing this love letter on Saturday morning, so that I can get it scheduled for release on Sunday. And for the last two days I’ve been at a writing conference. I’ll be returning for another dip this afternoon.
It’s not just any conference, it’s AWP.
AWP. Often the name is uttered in sepulcher tones. And that is because AWP is a near-mythical beast, due to its sheer size and breadth. Allow me to explain.
AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs and it runs for three days in cities all around the country, and this year it is in Portland. It attracts writers, editors, readers, book lovers, publishers, teachers and literary stars you follow on social media. 12,000 of them descend on the host city, all sporting lanyard name tags (this year they are robin’s egg blue) and toting AWP cloth bags (this year orange on white). The last few days, they’ve been all over Portland’s east side and downtown, scurrying like ants.
The conference offers panels and readings, lectures and talks. Like, hundreds of them. So many in each time slot it is overwhelming to comb through the massive schedule online and in the fat book they hand you at registration.
And then there are the off-site events all over the city. Restaurants and coffee shops anywhere near the convention center are booked at all hours for events. I attended a Happy Hour hosted by my literary agency and filled in for a friend, hosting an intimate memorial reading for a dear mentor.
Oh, and did I mention the book fair? It is, like everything else associated with AWP, huge. MFA programs, creative writing communities, small presses, big publishers, individuals hawking books, and literary non-profits all share info about their programs, press buttons and tote bags on you, and some even offer chocolate. (That would be my MFA program, Spalding, whose booth I staffed on Friday morning.)
Suffice it to say, it is overwhelming. Some of the session rooms are small and overcrowded, with writers sitting in the aisles and blocking doors. (Can you say fire hazard?). And then there was the one hour of my life I lost standing in line to register. (The line curved around the exhibit hall lobby, went up one set of stairs, across a landing, up another set of stairs, past the ballrooms, up an escalator, down a set of stairs and along a corridor that led who knows where.)
And the panels vary dramatically in quality. Some, like the one I attended on travel writing and tarot for writers, are quite good. Some have one stand-out presenter, like the session I attended on author platform, but a couple who are not quite so good. And others are just, well, really different, like the panel I attended on the future of the narrative. Despite a couple of big-name stars on it, let’s just say this one wasn’t my cup of tea.
By the end of the day, my AWP bag was filled with books and magazines and glossy flyers that everyone seemed to want to press into my hands. My legs were starting to hurt (though my new hip held up remarkably well) and so was my head. My head was stuffed with all kinds of information it hadn’t yet had time to process. All I wanted to do was hide in a cave with a bottle of wine.
So why go? Why bother? With this or any other writing conference? Most writers are introverts and being with other people too much is painful. (I am one of the rare breed who is not, and even I get overwhelmed).
For so many reasons. The information is mostly helpful, and the readings inspiring. It is fun to meet new writers, see so many in every shape, size, age, gender and non-binary gender. It’s a chance to meet up with writers I might only see once a year. For me, I caught up with many out of town writers I know from my MFA program, and the five of us who shared a writing retreat in Ceret last March also had a reunion. It’s inspiring to see how many small presses are thriving in the world and fascinating to see the array of booths in the exhibit hall.
And mostly, it reminds you that you are a writer. That being a writer is important in the world. That it is something to be proud of. That it is an endeavor worth spending your time on even if you never get that huge advance you dream about.
So perhaps I’ll see you in San Antonio, where AWP will be held next year? Or maybe at another writing conference along the way? I sure hope so.
Leave a comment and tell me what you think of writing conferences.
Things of Note
Only one new article on Medium this week, because I was at the beach without wifi and then at AWP. But here it is.
And in case you didn’t see them, here are last week’s:
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I’m enjoying this one. It is compelling enough that I read a few pages each night after coming home brain dead from AWP.
The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. I love this book. It is totally self-help, so if that’s not your thing, skip it. But he manages to be encouraging with truly helpful ideas in an easily accessible style.
Here’s my ko-fi, where you can buy me a cup of coffee or any kind of drink you’d like (so far it has been running toward wine). Thank you in advance for the treat!
France 2019—Come to south of France with me! Find all the details here. We already have a number of people committed, so sign up soon.
And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already. I post lots of good links and often we get some good conversation going.
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