I was going to write something pithy and snarky about AWP, which occurs this week in Minneapolis, but it turns out I don’t have the gumption. (AWP is the annual convention for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, which is essentially the professional organization of people who teach creative writing at the college level.) Truth is, I wish I was there and preemptively miss the friends I only get to see there. So instead of desperate acts of personal website sarcasm, here are my small nuggets of AWP-related advice for those attending for the first time or for those people, like me, who need annual renewal advice.
1. Wear comfortable shoes. And be honest with your feet. An editor friend told me this years ago and I didn’t take her seriously. (Always take your editors seriously!) You will be on your feet and you will be walking a great deal, and if you’re like me and spend most of your regular days sitting on your buster, you’re going to need the comfiest pair you’ve got. Just do it.
2. Pack light. Wait, no, scratch that. Don’t pack anything. Or pack as little as humanly possible, because you’re going to attract books and book-like objects and you will need the extra room in your one piece of luggage. (Also, you should only bring one piece of luggage. This isn’t ’Nam.) And those seven tote bags that you magically accumulate are going to get very heavy with literary lint. I wish I could say that all of the stuff I typically hoover into my possession at AWP is half as charming when I get back home, but still that’s part of the fun. It’s a bit like playing PacMan. Regarding how this refusal to pack clothing will affect your conference fashionability, look, this is AWP. People look terrible at AWP. True, people also look terrible at MLA, but at least they’re trying hard to look normal. (So, so hard.) At AWP, people are trying hard to look arty while not appearing to care about how they look, which leads to a strained slobcore militancy. So, fight all of this by just wearing the same outfit each day. You’re gonna love how you look.
3. Remember that the primary purpose of a professional conference of any kind (even an academic one with a high contingent of graduate students like AWP) is social, not educational. And no, I don’t mean it’s an occasion to “network.” I mean, it’s an occasion to be social. As in, the fun’s at the bar.
Should you go to the panels? Well, only if you must, or only if you want to say hey to a friend, but remember that the panel presentations are never more exciting than their brief descriptions in the massive printed schedule. The actual panel is cramped seating, the constant fear of not being able to find an available bathroom, people who aren’t naturally good public speakers failing to speak into the mic, followed by people who’ve lost the ability to ask questions without long, creepy, aggressive, prefatory statements. Just skip it! Go to the book fair, and then go the bar, and then go wherever people go off-site. I never went to many off-site things because I was always too tired and scared. (See point 1 above re: shoes.)
This lesson is applicable to all professional conferences, which are complex civilized excuses to meet friends for drinks. You probably already knew that but it took me years.
4. Can you crash those special retreat/lit mag reunion-like get-togethers that happen after hours? They aren’t going to arrest you for trying.
5. Also, remember that they call them “conventions” for a reason. That is, it’s the annual occasion when a multifarious endeavor establishes, or reaffirms, or performs its conventions. Which is to say, it’s a bit like going to a drag show. Which is also to say, Go, have fun, see your buddies, but don’t take it too seriously. The actual writing is going to happen (or not happen) when you’re at home alone, sitting on your buster.
6. And for God’s sake if you aren’t there, don’t keep one eyed glued to Twitter to see how things are going. Don’t pine for the party you’re missing out on. Yes, you are missing out. Get over it. Life happens like this! Does it mean you’re a loser and no one understands you and you don’t have any true friends? Well, maybe. But yanking refresh on Twitter and feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to make that any better. Instead, just take a long lunch and buy a taco and maybe read an actual book. Next week everyone’ll be back at work anyway.