13 Thoughts & Reflections About #AWP14 & Writers Conferences

As I write this, I’m sitting in an airport terminal in Dallas, waiting for my final flight back to Austin. Bare with me, I’m exhausted. Not only did I spend the last four days in Seattle for AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference) with 13,000 other writers, but my flight home got cancelled overnight. I’m so ready to be home. But so very happy I came.

I’d love to give you a step-by-step playback so you can see for yourself how amazing this conference (and others) was. But since I’m barely capable of completely full sentences at this point (me to the hotel staff this morning: “At what time does food open?”). I hope a list will suffice.

1. I’ve had 3 amazing writing groups that have helped shaped my books in every stage of the process, from draft to querying to edits that were due to my editor. I met all of them at writing conferences.

2. Have you ever walked into an elevator full of writers? You must.

3. Twitter, Facebook, social media in general have made writers’ conferences a giant reunion with friends you’ve yet to meet in real life. If you worry about socializing at conferences, realize this: Social media is like the ice breaker. By the time you’re at a conference and finally meeting, you’re already friends.

4. Get a group of writers and some late-night drinks together and you know what they’ll discuss in a tipsy haze? Which words most irk them when mispronounced.

5. Did I ever tell you that I met my agent at a writer’s conference?

6. You probably won’t have time to go to ALL THE PANELS. But when you do, you’ll learn things like this:

and this:

and this:

7. My first day at AWP, I went to a reading with Richard Blanco and Cristina Garcia. The first poem Richard Blanco read (you might recognize his name: he read at President Obama’s inauguration last January) nearly broke my heart and pieced it back together. There I was, sitting in a hotel meeting room, crying real, hot tears. All because of words. And truths. And I was reminded why we do this.

8. Two words: Writer selfies. Need I say more?

Me and Kirstin Chen, author of Soy Sauce for Beginners. You might remember her as a Deb Ball guest author in January.

Me and Kirstin Chen, author of Soy Sauce for Beginners. You might recall she was a Deb Ball guest author in January.

9. Great things happen when writers come together. Discussions lead to epiphanies. Bonds are made. Joint events are brainstormed and dreamed up and planned. Books are signed. You fearfully approach someone whose work you’ve admired from afar and tell them about your book and they tell you they’d love to read it, so you agree to exchange ARCs (this actually happened to me this weekend…squee!).

10. You’d think being at a conference with 13,000 other writers would make one feel insignificant. But here is proof, in the flesh, that you are part of a community. These are your people, and they are people you can hear, see, and touch (not randomnly, but a hug with someone you’re finally meeting is totally acceptable). I’ll admit there are moments when I’m at my desk, alone, when I question how much what I do matters. At a conference, that question is answered, because exchanging ideas with others, you realize this is how you make things happen. This is how you create change.

11. Writers are, in general, introverts. That corner of the room you fear you’ll occupy quietly in silence ends up being crowded with other friendly, shy faces. At every conference I’ve been to, this challenges me to step outside my comfort zone and say hello to someone. Without fail, that’s where the friendships, memories, and opportunities have sprung from.

12. I grow a little, both as a person and a writer, every time I attend a conference.

13. I also grow exhausted. So, a tip: book a room with the biggest bed they’ve got. At the end of each night, all you’ll want to do is pass out like a starfish (as writer Kelly Luce put it) and take in these moments to yourself to reflect on the day’s events. And it will be absolutely heavenly.

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Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at nataliasylvester.com

19 thoughts on “13 Thoughts & Reflections About #AWP14 & Writers Conferences

  1. Great thoughts, Natalia, and exactly all the reasons I love going to conferences. 🙂 I’m really looking forward to this season that’s about to fire up!

    • So great to meet you, too, Tina! Was it your first AWP? It was mine and I was blown away by how many of us there were.

  2. Love these thoughts, Natalia! The lovely exhaustion at the end of a conference–there’s nothing like it! Actually, I’m in the process of exhausting myself as I type: at a writers retreat/conference this week!

    • I feel like our timing for this topic couldn’t have been better, Lisa. We’re all either at conferences or just announcing conference schedules. We’ve got cons on the mind!

  3. I went to Boston last year, so I knew a bit of what to expect. As one friend said, “bring protein!” There’s so much to do, and no real lunch time!

    • I really wish I’d brought snacks. An apple or a banana would’ve been so welcome. I found myself not having had lunch, or having dinner really, really late. Now I know for next time!

  4. “There I was, sitting in a hotel meeting room, crying real, hot tears. All because of words. And truths. And I was reminded why we do this.”

    <3

    Thanks for sharing your experience and letting us live vicariously. I was definitely jealous. And next time you're in Seattle, you should try and meet up with Jamie and Ben. They're great!

    • I know! I thought about trying to meet up with Jamie and Ben but in all honesty the conference was so nonstop, I don’t know when we would’ve found the time. Hopefully our paths will cross one day and we’ll all find ourselves at an awesome conference 😉

  5. I’M SO ENVIOUS!! Sounds like you had a blast (minus the flight issues). And I need to look into a conference (now that I know it’s okay if I’m introverted). Thanks for sharing your experiences, Natalia!

  6. I love ALL of these things! AWP sounds amazing and I would love to attend someday. Each of us has a gift, whether big or small, and it seems conferences give us a chance to share those gifts with each other whether it be inspiration, advice, support, or friendship. What a wonderful opportunity for you and thank you for sharing a snippet of your trip. xox

  7. So glad to have the opportunity to follow your experience at the conference! Was watching on Twitter too at the time. Thanks for this write up. I think this is in Minneapolis next time so I will FOR SURE be there!

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