The Association of Writer’s and Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Conference will be held in Minneapolis, MN April 8-11, 2015. Literary Mama wants to help you make the most of it! In the months leading up to the conference, and also during it, we’ll share some perspectives and personal experiences. If you’ve been to the conference before, or plan to go this year, drop us a line, we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Highly opinionated and unapologetically contradictory advice on attending AWP for the first time
DO look at the conference schedule ahead of time; it’ll be posted on line, and you can click and save events to a personalized schedule, making the conference a bit easier for you to navigate when you arrive. If you’re really organized, you can print that personal schedule out in case your phone/tablet fails you at the conference.
DO remember to pack a charger for any electronic devices you use, and if you’re carrying them around during the conference with you, carry the chargers with you, too. There’s nothing like taking a long, wandering lunchtime walk away from the conference and then having your phone die, leaving you lost and unable to contact the person you were supposed to meet back at the convention center (not that I would know.)
DO bring a pad of paper. Pens abound at AWP (two minutes in the book fair is all you need to collect a pen and enough Hershey Kisses to get you through the next panel) but blank paper is weirdly hard to come by and it’s always useful for jotting down notes.
DO consider making business cards (name, email, URL, affiliation, book title, etc) to pass out to folks you meet at the conference, and collect theirs, too. It’s pretty cheap to make them online, and way more professional than scribbling your contact info on the back of a bookmark.
DO consider attending a panel on a topic outside your field/genre/main area of interest; I’m an essayist, but went to a poetry panel during my first AWP conference (mostly because a friend was speaking), and it was exciting to discover how much the poets’ issues applied to my own work. Give it a whirl.
DO let yourself skip the keynote; really, attendance is not required. Of course, if it’s a writer you love, get out there; I still remember Jhumpa Lahiri’s wonderful story about the writing contest she won in elementary school. But if this is your best chance for a break, or to meet up with an old friend from grad school, skip it.
But DON’T skip the book fair. It is vast and may seem overwhelming, but wade in slowly, armed with some of those Hershey’s kisses, and make your way to the booth of a journal you read or a small press you admire. Look for the letterpress folks. Nothing is more inspiring about the future of the printed word than this sea of publishers.
DO build in downtime for yourself. The conference is huge, and all that networking can stress a body out. Don’t let that be you. Do you normally exercise, take an afternoon nap, or go for an evening walk? It is perfectly ok to skip an event or two and let yourself recharge.
Along those lines, DO go somewhere quiet to write. I was shocked the first time I went to AWP and a friend announced she was taking the afternoon off for a mini writing retreat. Now I do, too. Other folks can afford the time and money to come early or stay a day after the conference ends. Even if it’s just an afternoon, consider giving yourself some writing time. You’re a writer after all, right?
DO leave the conference! You’re in an interesting city, go visit a museum or restaurant away from the convention center. If you need to justify it: you’re taking a break, having some downtime (see above), which will make you a more engaged conference goer. Need more justification? You’re gathering material/inspiration for your work. And in case your sense of direction is like mine, make sure not to forget that phone charger.
DON’T be shy. I know, you’re a writer, you’re probably shy. But try to put yourself out there: ask questions at panels, talk to the booth sitter at that small press you love, introduce yourself to the people sitting nearby at events. You never know when you might really connect with someone.
DO enjoy yourself! AWP is a fantastic opportunity to meet new writers, reconnect with old friends, and get inspired by all the amazing work they are doing. Have fun, and don’t forget to write!