This spring break I traveled to Portland for the AWP conference! For those of you who don’t know what AWP is, that’s totally ok; when I started the program, I didn’t know either. AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs— it’s basically Comic Con for writers. There are authors, tons of panels, a book fair, and opportunities to get your books autographed by your favorite writers. The process as a whole was very overwhelming, but that’s why you bring a writer friend with you (a.k.a. Charli Andrews). To help prep you for your own AWP adventure, I’ll let you in on some tips…a kind of rookies’ guide to conquering the AWP conference.
1. Early, early, early
This might be obvious, but from your plane ticket to getting a seat close to the panelist, you need to do everything early. The line to get registered was almost an hour. So, if you thought you’d make that 9 a.m. panel by getting to the convention center at 8:30 a.m…I’m going to let you know you’re wrong about that.
2. Schedules will and won’t work
Be prepared to miss more things than you’ll get to see. There are tons of panels and they overlap. Even if you create a schedule of what you want to see, you’ll probably deviate from it. As Charli and I found out, the panels are pretty much back to back…and you will get HUNGRY. The energy you spend walking around and talking with CCC Alumni and current cohorts will tire you out. A full schedule of six panels might quickly become only three. This is okay because each day you can plan out what kind of panel you want to focus on, like craft, landing an agent, talks with well-known authors (Jesmyn Ward and Karren Russel were awesome!)
3. Go to the book fair
The book fair felt like home base. It’s where you buy way more books than you allotted yourself and where you can scope out different lit journals—potential homes for your short stories, and if you have submitted to any of these journals, you can put a face to the editorial name, behind the acceptance/rejection email.
4. Make time to see the city
It was totally a financial decision (we bought our plane tickets late) but we got to spend two extra days in Portland. Since AWP fell on Columbia’s spring break, we were at the convention for at least four of the days we had off. Going back to work and writing after no rest can be stressful, but having those days to explore Portland was much needed.
Ultimately how you spend your time at the conference is up to you. Personally, I find that knowing someone else’s experience can be comforting when you may not know what to expect. I learned more about writing, caught up with friends, and got to see a city I’d never been to before. I hope that when you go to AWP, you go with friends and that you have an amazing time.