Updates

AWP 2019 – Right of Passage

I’m sitting in my hotel room thinking about everything I’ve learned in the past couple of days, and I just wanted to get my thoughts down on virtual paper.

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The more I learn about the writing trade, the more I realize the people are constantly hoping to be admitted to the club. I’ve heard so many people at this conference say that they want to be accepted as a writer but I always wonder what that means. Who will accept them? Is one acceptance enough? How long will they chase the dragon?

Granted I have the privilege of time because I have a full time job. I’m not in a hurry. I don’t get pulled in by the 30 under 30 stuff, I know if I work hard I have as much of a chance as anyone else of being published. But I’m not feeling like I need someone to look me in the face and say “You are now a writer!”

I’m writing now. I’m revising and drafting and outlining now. I’m a writer. I’m not a published writer, but I am getting comfortable with telling people I am a writer. When people ask the question this week, I have responded with writer first and teacher second.

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I have been attending panels on revising and working on drafting a novel. The most useful panel I attended was one about writing darker narratives. My main character is going to be a darker shade of grey and so I wanted to hear what it would look like if her ending wasn’t 100% a HEA. The insights that the panel offered were amazing, and I have a ton of new ideas.

The rest of the panels I attended were nice, and I learned some things from them, but sitting here in my hotel room tonight thinking about the experience as a whole I have some reservations. One of the panels I attended was so “academic” I completely stopped listening. The language and the approach was so high/heavy handed that the non-MFA writer would be like “hey, I don’t have to pay out-of-state tuition for this lecture, do I?”

I get that this conference is mainly focused towards teaching and learning writing, and most sessions are geared toward undergraduates and their professors from creative writing programs and MFAs, but I would be interested to see what percentage of attendees are not a part of any program and simply want to learn the trade.

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The book fair is also focused primarily on short form writing, literary magazines, and MFA programs from across the country. I wish there was more information from literary agencies, opportunities for speed dating for pitching or workshops for query writing. Instead of constantly listening, what about sessions where small groups actually do things?

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Last year I was a wide-eyed writer looking to discover publishing. This year I’m a writer with a complete first draft and more focused needs, and I’m noticing how AWP may not be the best fit for what I’m trying to do. Granted I have spent a hefty amount of time in my hotel room revising my own book toward a second draft, and I am thankful that I had this time away to focus on starting that, but if I’m going to spend money on registration fees and fly all the way across the country for something, it should be V V relevant. I’m not sure future attendance at AWP would be a good use of my resources.

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There are other variables involved in my deliberations. My husband and I have finally paid off all our credit card debt and are putting our full resources behind saving enough money for a down payment on a house, something we hope to accomplish within 2-3 years. I shouldn’t be shelling out airfare and registration for another conference until that goal is reached.

Traveling is very stressful for me, and when you add the element of jet lag to the process it’s downright exhausting. I have to re-evaluate if going to conferences is really best at this stage, not only for financial reasons but also for self-care reasons. Additionally I receive so few days off per year as a teacher, and I have to decide if using them to attend a conference is the best use of that benefit.

I want to be clear, I do not feel like coming to Portland was a waste of my time. It was not. I am walking away with two ARCs of books I am very excited about, and I learned so much about revision and crafting narratives that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I got to meet a few online friends in person and experience a very cool city. It’s just time to ask, after two years of this conference, whether there really needs to be a third. The more I think about it, the more I believe that the answer is no.

There are others that could take its place! BookCon in New York. The Nebula Conference (SFFWA) in California. I need to do research on writer’s and critique groups in Florida or the Southeast that I could join to get feedback on my writing. Focusing in these other places may be more beneficial for my genre and writing than AWP, and so once we obtain that new house, I’ll begin setting my sights on these other opportunities.

 

AWP 2019 – Preboarding

Tomorrow I’ll be leaving work early to meet a Super Shuttle at my house to go to the airport, where I will go on an eight hour journey diagonally across the country to the AWP Conference in Portland, Oregon. AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and so a lot of its content is directed towards students and teachers of writing, either at the K-12 level or at the college level, specifically MFA programs. So for a lone wolf like myself looking to learn about the industry, it can seem a little daunting.

I was thankful that I could get a taste for what the conference was like last year, when it was in my home area of Tampa. I was able to save on a lot of the costs like airfare and hotel and simply drive to the convention center each day to participate. I found that I loved walking around the book fair and seeing all the different ways we can write and share our creative work. I was able to find 2-3 panels each day that I could go to so I could learn about how the publishing industry works. I went to one about agents, one about querying, one about character development, and one about the debut year for an author. It was a veritable smorgasbord of WHAT IS PUBLISHING??? for me and it was very helpful and useful. I can attribute this as the final push that convinced me to put my all into writing a book.

Based on my experience in Tampa I decided to shell out the dough and attend in Portland. Not only have I written the entire first draft of my first novel, I am also prepared to begin serious revisions over the summer (I’m kind of picking at it right now in the time that I have). I am choosing my panels this year with more of a single focus. I’ll be attending revision panels and structuring panels, especially those that talk about the middle of the book, and how to make sure I’m always moving the story forward.

Obviously flying to Portland and staying in a hotel is much more expensive than just driving, but there were several reasons why I felt that the expense was justified. It’s acting as a vacation as much as a learning experience. I get very few opportunities to get away from home by myself. It’s also acting as a writing retreat; I have an office at home but with two dogs, two cats, and a husband it’s not always the easiest thing to get motivated. I’ll be going to the conference and bookfair in the mornings and early afternoons, sightseeing in the late afternoon, and writing/revising and relaxing in the evenings.

I am approaching this writing thing as a learning process. I want to listen and learn from as many reputable sources as possible so that when I enter the ring I am as prepared as I can be. I’m sure eventually I may want to spend my money elsewhere on other kinds of learning experiences. For now it’s useful, and a nice retreat, so off I go into the wild blue yonder.

WIP #1: Second Draft – Outlining

After letting my 75,000 word first draft sit in a drawer for two months, I’m sitting down this week to look back at my word vomit and start to bring it all into some kind of order.

I’m using Weiland’s Outling Your Novel + Workbook along with her Structuring Your Novel + Workbook to help guide me, as well as the writer resources available via Susan Dennard, Delilah S. Dawson, and Chuck Wendig, excellent advice givers all.

My major concern with this draft is to be able to connect all the dots from beginning to THE END. Whether I use index cards or post it notes or some kind of flow chart mapping program online, I’ve gotta get my ducks in a row. I know the story I am trying to tell, now I just need to read back through my first draft, find the themes, characters, and elements I want to keep, and put it all into a clear structure for a second draft rewrite. I have a week of spring break to do some heavy lifting on this (I am a full-time maths teacher!) and I plan to make the most of my time.

What’s Happening?

I will be at AWP next week in Portland, Oregon where I’ll be attending all the revision panels I can find, exploring Powell’s Books for the first time, and experiencing all the culinary wonder that Portland’s Grub Hub can bring to me at my hotel. Thank goodness for their inexpensive light rail system, because I really didn’t want to have to rent a car.