The AWP Conference: “Write for the joy of it. Everything else is distraction.”

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I’ve always known the writing world was big. I just didn’t know it was this big.

Last week, the annual AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It still blows my mind that I had the opportunity to go in the first place. As a “lowly” undergrad, I was able to join the ranks of established or up and coming authors, publishers, editors, agents, poets, professors–anything you can think of. Whether I was sitting in a panel, listening to experts talk about everything from revising a novel to how to get an agent to how to write new, explosive young adult fiction to how to deal with rejection, or exploring the bookfair, where thousands of literary magazines, MFA programs and publishing companies were on display, I was constantly amazed at how lucky I was to be there, and be a part of it.

Maybe I’m only on the bottom rung of the ladder, clutching a handful of unfinished manuscripts and poems in desperate need of second drafts, staring up at a world I have no idea how to break into–but that’s the thing. Every single panelist, every single “expert” out there today, was once just like me. Once upon a time, they stood where I stand now, they dreamed what I dream now, and then they worked, and they persevered, and they made it. So, maybe it was overwhelming, maybe it was intimidating, to finally acknowledge just what I’m getting myself into post-graduation, but it was also enlightening and beyond encouraging. It’s said that around 12,000 writers attend AWP each year. This fact alone promises that there is a future in writing. These people all belong to a piece of it. Who says someday I can’t too?

Some of the advice given in the panels was invaluable, and I suppose I’ll be generous and share my favourites with you, even though I might just be fueling future competition…just kidding. I wish everyone could hear some of these:

“Delve into the world. Be in your world as you write it. Don’t think ahead to getting published. Give your story the attention it deserves while writing it.”

“Voice is huge. Publishers and agents look for this. ‘Voice writing’ should dominate the first chapters of a book–find the person, and in so doing, find the story.”

“Research is key. Travel, see the places you’re writing. Go out and be among your audience group.”

“Editors and agents want their assumptions overturned. They want to be surprised. They want the story they didn’t know they were looking for. They want the piece that is considerably more curious than they are–and is working it out on the page. They want authenticity. Not (a direct quote) bullshit. Not someone writing (again, direct quote) another fucking prompt. Be honest! Be real.”

“When feeling down about constant rejections as a first-time author…don’t! Enjoy this time! Remember you are in a space of total freedom–you can do anything, go anywhere.”

“On rejection: you are not your work.”

“Revising is writing too.”

“Be polished. Your work should make you, and anyone who reads it, FEEL SOMETHING. Be urgent, alive and original!”

“Where’s the heart? What’s the heart? That’s where the story is.”

“You’ll never be the writer you want to become. It’s the writing ‘nowness’ that matters.”

“You can’t sustain inspiration. You can only court it. It happens while you’re writing. You can’t wait for it.”

“Write for the joy of it. Not for its future or its past, but its present. Get to the core of what you love, what you care about. Everything else is distraction.”

AH! I could go on forever. Just re-reading these brings back the explosion of inspiration I felt during the panels and while touring the bookfair. I alternated between taking notes and writing new chapters of the novel I’m working on. It was glorious. It was writer heaven. I hope, if you are a writer and love that you are, that someday you get the chance to have this experience too!

On top of panels, there were evening entertainments: readings in bars, slam poetry competitions, movement and writing workshops downtown Minneapolis, and so much more. (Like great opportunities for people-watching. Some writers are wonderfully weird). Basically, I’m saying that if you get the chance, GO! Don’t hesitate. Just do it. You’re a writer! AWP is an experience that reminds you to love it, to be proud of it, and what could be better than that?

-Caitlin Krahn

Caitlin Krahn is a senior Writing Arts major at SUNY Plattsburgh and is currently (desperately) trying to figure out how to write for the joy of it while somehow still managing to make money…she’s willing to take suggestions. (Seriously. Please help). 

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