AWP 2014 is just around the corner, and although neither Mia nor I can make it this year, I thought that—for those who are going—I would share a bit of what I’ve learned from past years about how to get the most out of the weekend without letting it break me. Don’t get me wrong; I love AWP. It’s an amazing resource and a great opportunity for networking, for encountering new work, for hearing literary heroes read or speak, and for participating in critical and creative exchange with other writers. But AWP is also enormous. It’s filled with thousands of people, the schedule is packed with pages upon pages of events, and the bookfair is filled with hundreds of tables offering items for sale. I can’t claim to speak for everyone, of course, but for writers like me—who happen to be introverts, travel on a budget, and/or struggle with decision paralysis when faced with choices as simple as which variety of dish detergent to purchase—this can sometimes feel incredibly overwhelming. Fortunately, over the course of the five AWP conferences that I’ve attended, I’ve discovered that a little planning and pacing can go a long way toward making my experience healthier, more manageable, and altogether more enjoyable and fulfilling. If you’re going to AWP for the first time this year, or even if you’ve been before and want to minimize the crazy-making aspects of your experience this time, read on for some tips.
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1. Pack light, but be prepared. Check the weather forecast for the host city and try to pack appropriately (the last three years, it snowed heavily during the conference, and I was extremely glad that I had brought my winter boots and thick coat with me). Be sure to pack shoes that you’ll be comfortable walking or standing in for long periods of time, and that will provide you with some measure of protection from wet or cold weather. I also suggest planning to dress in layers during the conference. Especially during colder weather, hotels and conference centers tend to keep their heat up pretty high, and the bookfair in particular can be sweltering with all of the people milling around inside, so it’s a good idea to wear a couple of layers in case you start feeling very warm indoors (overheating inside the building is just as miserable as freezing outdoors). Also, if you have business cards, bring them! And if you don’t, I suggest considering getting a few made up with your name, email address, social media handle(s), and web site if you have one: Overnight Prints offers a great bargain for a solid product; for those who want something a little prettier, I highly recommend Moo.com. Lastly, don’t forget to leave extra room in your suitcase (or to pack a second, collapsible bag that you can pop out and fill up later). You will inevitably come home with books and other treasures, and you’ll want someplace to put them.
2. Plan your schedule selectively and strategically. Before the conference, look at the schedule and decide what events are absolute must-attends for you (if possible try to limit yourself to one of these per day; you’ll inevitably add more on later, but since there are so many events, it’s helpful to begin the conference with a sense of which events you would absolutely regret missing). Once at the conference, re-evaluate every evening, and map out two to three “target” panels to attend the next day, but be flexible. If other panels happen, wonderful! If not (and even if you don’t make it to all the events you’d planned to go to), don’t kick yourself. If you find that you really need a nap instead of attending that reading, take the nap (if you fall asleep while sitting in the audience at the reading, you’ll be missing it anyway).