Today I am flying to Chicago for this year's AWP conference. I'll be presenting on Friday and otherwise trying to do as much as possible: catching up with writer friends, wandering through the book room, attending panels, and going to readings off-site. If you're going to be there, I'd love to see you (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.)
This will be my fifth year attending AWP and I've gotten better at "AWP-ing" each time. The first time, I was completely overwhelmed and burst into tears in my hotel room after getting through the long elevator line and back to my expensive, shared room. It wasn't clear to me why I should keep writing if there were so many of us (this year is sold out with over 9,500 participants!) It was all too much. I went through most of the conference in a daze and later dragged home my luggage heavy with literary journals and handouts, some of which I didn't really want.
If you buy me a beer at the hotel bar, I might admit to a few tears in future years. In general, though, the conference has become less overwhelming and more exciting. The sheer attendee numbers resemble a national community, as do the wide range of panel and reading presentations. Sure, maybe I'm an optimist at heart, but it is inspiring to learn about what your colleagues are doing and all that is possible to do.
Here are some things I try to do that help to make the conference not only interesting, but inspiring, fun and helpful:
I make a point to attend some panels on subjects that are unfamiliar to me and learn something new. (Try using the new online Planner.)
I allow myself to leave a panel if it really doesn't seem interesting/useful/well-organized.
I try to overcome my shyness and talk to more people.
I don't pick up everything that is offered to me. If I do, I don't need to carry everything home.
I make a point of meeting up with friends and catching up on our projects.
I go to panels and the book room with particular goals: Is there a kind of literary journal/publisher that I want to discover or, better yet, one in particular that I'm looking for? Do I have a question for the panelists or editors?
I take notes as I meet people and go to panels so I can better keep in touch and follow-up on what I've learned.
I carry business cards so people can keep in touch with me.
I pack some healthy snacks and try to get some sleep during the conference.
This year in Chicago, I'm going to eat deep dish pizza, even if we have to stand in line forever.
And if I start to get overwhelmed, I'll read through the Facebook AWP Swami page and laugh.
Here are some additional suggestions on what to do - and not do - at the conference.
I'll be back to blogging next week! Until then... I hope to see you in Chicago! I'll have postcard poems with me, too, if you're interested in buying one or a set.