My First Time: AWP '16

My newly acquired, Latin inscribed MFA diploma sits in my closet, and my fancy bound thesis has found a place on my shelf, and I’m…I’m not sure what I’m doing. I guess I’m trying to navigate the crazy, wild world of writing. What do I do now? What kind of job do I want? What kind of job can I get? Will someone just pay me to sit in my apartment and write whatever I want? Do I have enough money to pay my rent next month?

So many questions, so little answers. I feel lucky that I have an amazing support system in the form of my MFA colleagues and professors, but I still can’t help feeling very much alone in my journey to becoming a full-fledged (and paid) writer.

It’s hard work, and you have to put yourself out there, which for me is pretty scary. When I found out that AWP, a huge conference for writers, was happening in Downtown LA, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to go. I had no idea what to expect, but I had heard that it can be quite overwhelming the first time. I wanted to be prepared, and not a lost little lamb in the LA Convention Center, so I downloaded the AWP16 app and poured through the readings, panels, and lectures, picking out the ones that called to me.

With my best professional-looking shirt on, I boarded the Metro for the short ride downtown. I was nervous, checking my schedule so I knew where I needed to be, and looking in the mirror to make sure I didn’t have anything in my teeth, and that my hair was staying in place.

I was overwhelmed, and intimidated the second I stepped in the convention center. But, I persevered, and over the course of those two days I learned, and listened, and talked, and made the most of the opportunity. Below are a few tips, and things I learned along the way:

  • This convention is huge. You’ll feel overwhelmed, but try not to overwhelm yourself. There are so many great readings, signings, panels, etc., that you’ll want to attend (almost) all of them. Don’t. Pace yourself. If you scheduled three panels back-to-back, you’ll quickly learn that’s not a great idea. You’ll exhaust yourself. I ended up skipping a few that I included in my schedule because it was just too much.

  • Give yourself ample time to stroll through the Bookfair. The Bookfair is where presses, literary journals, MFA programs, and more set up booths to market themselves. I made three separate trips in the course of two days. Take the time to stop at the booths that catch your eye, pick up some swag, and maybe purchase a book or two. Most importantly, start conversations.

alt Convention Goodies

  • Which brings me to...don’t be afraid to start conversations, or engage when spoken to. I get it, I’m not great at small talk, and even worse at starting conversations, but you have to do it or you’ll be missing out. It’s part of networking (a term that sends chills up my spine). You never know who you’ll meet or what opportunities may arise.

  • Attend the offsite events. The convention is just one aspect. There are many offsite readings and gatherings during the course of the convention and it’s another great way of meeting and connecting with fellow writers.

  • Find your friends! You’re bound to know someone who is attending, or maybe a friend of a friend. A familiar face is always comforting. I made a beeline for the booth my MFA program had set up, and chatted with my former mentors. Since they live on the East Coast I don’t get to see them often and I welcomed the opportunity to reconnect with him.

alt My cat Ace stepping on F. Scott Fitzgerald's face.

I’ve just now gotten around to digging through my swag and all the information I collected while I was there. Now it’s time to put it to good use. Being around all those other writers made me feel connected to the writing world, like I was a part of something special, and I know I am.

See you next year in DC AWP!