My AWP2016 conference takeaways unpacked for you:
1. Plan Ahead
I hate not knowing where I’m headed. It flusters me, and that’s the last thing I want at something that will likely overwhelm me. I was really glad I’d gone ahead and figured out which sessions I wanted to attend ahead of time. I narrowed it down to a top 2-3, and left that on my phone (the AWP app was a great feature that seemed to be underutilized by most). (For non-AWP folks, there were 28 options for the 9a-10:15a time slot alone.) I knew how I’d get from my hotel to the convention center. I knew when I’d have a break to eat. I had my helper apps installed (maps, restaurants, contact info for people I wanted to meet). That all said, I really messed up in one crucial area which leads me to my second point.
2. Know Where You Parked
With smart phones this is so stinking easy and I failed miserably. I got so distracted talking to another writer on her on the way into the convention center that I completely blanked on marking where I’d left my car. Let’s just say the relocation process was painful. If you’ve got a smart phone, you can text yourself the location from the map or even snap a picture of where you’re at.
Or… save yourself the headache and use public transportation. Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to afford one of the onsite hotels.
3. Surrender to the Flow
As carefully as I planned things, I still ended up in sessions that misled themselves a bit in their descriptions. This happened early in the conference for me. I’d read over & over that it’s perfectly acceptable to get up and leave if the session wasn’t keeping your attention or wasn’t what you expected, but… just when I was feeling antsy about staying, a funny thing happened. The first speaker in the panel sat down and the second panelist got up and all of a sudden, I was interested. It became relevant, and it stayed that way. I thought, gee, I’d have missed out if I hadn’t stayed.
I kept this in mind in the other sessions I was attending (I attended 15 sessions & part of a 16th), and more often than not, this stayed true (for the sessions that had a dud). I don’t know if it was planned. Did they tell the panel organizer “make sure you put your weakest link first”? I doubt it, but that’s how it seemed to work. I only attended one session where there was more than one dud, but even then, I gleaned things.
This is probably a carry-over from college and the smaller conferences I’ve attended, but there is always something you can take with you, even if the session isn’t 100% brain-satisfying.
4. Laptops Aren’t Necessary
There. I said it. I felt like I was committing some kind of mortal writing sin not to bring my laptop, but it worked out so well! First, I didn’t feel obligated to write after I got back to my hotel room. If I’d brought it, I’d have come back brimming with ideas but no stamina. I needed to relax and refuel. This was a very good move for me. I had my tablet along so I could take notes during the sessions (I used Evernote), and that’s all I needed. It also saved me the extra stress of worrying whether it’d get stolen or damaged during travel, but then, mine is a beast. It’s a 17″ laptop so maybe the answer is a smaller laptop.
5. Be Okay with Not Doing EVERYTHING
I knew I wouldn’t be able to attend all the sessions I wanted, but I didn’t think about the extracurricular events, and meeting-up with friends. I thought for sure that there’d be a cushion of time available for meeting-up with friends. And I guess that technically existed if I (or they) were willing to stay up all hours of the night, but… I wasn’t willing and neither were they. By the time the sessions were over in a day (I went to 5 sessions the first day), my brain was mush. I had enough non-writer brain left to enjoy a meal with a friend, but an evening session, or one of the social evening events? I had nothing left for that. In some other universe where I didn’t care about the sessions and only did the extracurricular stuff, maybe.
6. Make Use of the Bookfair
I discovered all kinds of literary magazines that are accepting writing, it made me dizzy. Some publications are super specific (some seek out women writing from and for the LGBTQ community), some only want literary fiction, and some want general short fiction. There’s all kinds of poetry outlets, too, but my eyes were locked in on places I could submit what I write, and there were loads to pick from.
7. Keep a List of Terms You Don’t Understand
By the end I was catching up on the lingo, but there were so many terms being thrown around, especially for those of us outside the MFA-sphere, that I could feel my cheeks go red from my ignorance. Those things are easy enough to look-up later on and I was determined to do so. I don’t like not-knowing, and it’s not something I felt I could raise my hand and ask about.
8. Keep a Bibliography of Books To-Read
About 2 sessions in, my list of to-read books was pretty lengthy, but I wrote down titles in my notes so that later, if I had a question related to something topical, I’d know who’d written about it and what kind of content it’d have. Some of them have written poetry or novels that I’m dying to read, but for the most part, I was jotting down books that would help my own writing. (Though reading great poetry and novels help, too.)
9. Make Time for Meeting-Up with People
I was determined before I left for the conference to make sure I met up in Real Life with writing friends that I’d only known online. It forms a bond in those relationships that otherwise might not exist. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, it matters. It makes them real. On a practical level, it’s good for networking (blah, blah, blah), but as human beings, it’s a lot easier to dismiss someone if you’ve never met them.
10. Know Your Budget
I hate to end with something so practical, but there it is. Initially, the price for the conference was an amazing deal. I thought. There are plenty of far more expensive writing conferences out there that don’t offer nearly as much. Seriously, it is an amazing conference. Go if you can. But… consider transportation cost (not just to the location, but around town), lodging cost (one friend thought she could couch-surf for the entirety of the conference but things didn’t work out exactly and it meant extra cost), food, and the goodies [if you need to pay the airline bag fee so you can carry home the books you’ve bought at the bookfair]. Be honest with yourself. Is what you’re making enough to swing the conference? (This is especially true for us without scholarships, etc.)
I happen to have a very supporting spouse and together we decided it’d be worth it for me to go, but if you looked at my writing income compared to the conference costs… well, it wasn’t wise or frugal on that front.
It might be the kind of conference you can only attend every few years when you’ve saved enough to go. I’ve also heard that volunteering helps, as does being on the panels (to be on the panels you generally need to have heaps more clout than I personally have).
All in all, I am so very glad I went. I left feeling educated, encouraged, inspired, and in very good company. I highly recommend attending the next AWP Conference if you can. I think portions of it will be online soon. I know many of the panelists will have things posted to their personal websites in relation to it.
Let me know what your takeaways were if you went. Let me know what you’re curious about if you didn’t attend.