March 4, 2013

Twelve Thousand Writers Walk Into a Bar

This week, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs will hold its annual conference in Boston. Or, you can just write AWP13 and everyone gets the picture. You have by now certainly read multiple blog posts on the event: Ploughshares, basically the home team this year, has a new post with links to another fifteen articles or so. Passages North tells you how to win at AWP, and novelist Courtney Maum has shared with Tin House readers, among other things, the true meaning behind the AWP acronym: “Awkward Writers’ Powwow.”

With a little imagination and snark, it can all read like dating advice. Do you really need to be reminded to chew with your mouth closed and not talk about your ex?

Which is not to say that there is anything wrong with humor (as a loose rule: funny = good!) or giving advice to all the new attendees. However, making fun of AWP feels like an easy joke, and of these estimated 12,000 people, how many have really never been to a conference before? What value are all these posts adding to you as a reader? Perhaps the Veterans of AWP (note: this is not an actual veterans organization) don’t read the blogs and don’t need suggestions and advice. Perhaps the readers of this post, and others like it, need all the advice they can get.

And I don’t write this with any pre-exhaustion or cynicism. I genuinely love going to AWP. For me, it’s the opportunity to see what all the other literary journals are doing, commiserate with fellow editors, swap ideas and stories of our successes and failures. Over the years, my writer-friends have spread throughout the country, so this is going to be one of the few times I get to see them. There are many people to have a few pints with, and I lived in Boston for several years, over a decade ago now, and so I need to see the old stomping grounds.

But that’s me. For AWP to work for you, it has to be what you want and need it to be, not what other people tell it should be. It’s actually very similar to writing workshops. People can tell you all the time what your story should be doing but, hey, it’s not their story. You have to write the story you need to write. And you need to have the AWP experience that you need to have.

Maybe this means going to panels all day and readings all night. Maybe this means walking away with 100 literary magazines and 20 new subscriptions to literary magazines (note: every litmag editor in the world would love you forever for this. I’m just sayin’ …). Maybe this means sitting in the hotel bar all day long and just grabbing people to the table for one drink, one meal, one conversation, and they go and someone else joins and it’s just an all day long rotation. Maybe this means you have a job interview and you have to walk around in a suit the whole time. Maybe this means you spend one day at the conference and the rest of the time wandering Boston.

If we fit your plans, and I hope we do, swing by and say hello to us: TMR is posted up at Booth 2806 for the conference. We’re pretty friendly and love talking a little shop with new and friends. Bonus points if you bring us a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee…

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye

About Michael

Michael Nye is the managing editor of The Missouri Review. His writing has appeared in Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Crab Orchard Review, Kenyon Review, and New South, among others. His first story collection, STRATEGIES AGAINST EXTINCTION, is available on Queen's Ferry Press. Visit him online at mpnye.com

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