“If you go to just one amazing panel, the whole thing is worth it,” said one AWP veteran.
“Don’t spend money at the book fair until the last day,” said another.
We were heading to the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference, and I wanted strategies: how do you get the most out of a three-day conference? Here are some things I kept in mind this year.
#1 Know your limits: I learned as a teenager traveling with my parents that I have a one-museum-per-day limit, two if I’m flying solo and can take a break—and feed my caffeine addiction—in between. After that my brain turns to mush. (I learned this the hard way, as my mother’s daily museum limit is closer to four.) At AWP, I flagged at least five panels that I wanted to go to every day and then limited myself to two. I regretted that I couldn’t go to the rest, but I didn’t regret being able to focus on the excellent speakers I heard.
#2 Have some fun: There’s an AWP dance every evening, and yes, I could have gotten more sleep and perhaps made it to a third panel…but it’s hard to go wrong with an enormous ballroom, outdated music, and a bunch of other introverted and awkward writers. AWP also boasts a number of offsite events, which can be a chance to mingle in a slightly more formal setting.
#3 Determine your priorities: I chose most of the panels I went to based on topic, although one—which turned out to be the amazing, makes-the-whole-thing-worth-it panel—I chose based on speakers. At the book fair, I spent the most time at tables of literary journals who publish creative nonfiction, though with a week or two to explore the tables at leisure I’d have loved to examine some of the book publishers’ offerings more carefully. There’s always next time…
Tamzin Mitchell is the 2016-2017 Nonfiction Editor for Barnstorm.