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:
Samantha Lan Chang says focus shouldn’t be on likeability & characters’ popularity, but on infinite possibilities of the human soul. #AWP14
— Natalia Sylvester (@NataliaSylv) February 28, 2014
— Natalia Sylvester (@NataliaSylv) March 1, 2014
@rgay I keep thinking about what you said re: creating pipelines of opportunity for other writers of color @ Thursday’s panel. So important.
— Natalia Sylvester (@NataliaSylv) March 2, 2014
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?
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.