The American Association of Writers and Writing Programs – people have been telling me about this conference for years – that if it ever came close to my geographic area, I had to go. This year it was in DC. I could stay with my brother in Georgetown, so I registered. The conference welcomed between 12K and 14K people in the Washington Convention Center and the Marriott Marquis Hotel. Just a few more than our 200 plus at Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College.
I arrived at my brothers on Wednesday, and went to AWP on Thursday. I was delivering a poster for the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference and some conference rack cards. My Uber ride took only 15 minutes so I was early.
I dropped off my items at the ESWA booth and scoped out the bathrooms and the location of the first session. The convention center and the hotel had lots of big bathrooms. They didn’t skimp on stalls in the ladies’ rooms. For a conference with a lot of ladies, this was a big plus!
All the sessions I attended were panels – four to six participants. These folks had impeccable credentials, MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degrees and multiple publications. MFA’s seem to acquire a special language with that degree. I had to think hard about fictive culture, breaking the fourth wall, distant third and character maps. Most of the authors who spoke about fiction, write literary fiction. A couple of sessions I attended had authors who wrote Middle-grade and Young Adult fiction, but there was not a Paranormal Romance (or any kind of romance genre for that matter) session to be found.
I did think I was going to get close with the session titled “Writing Female Desire.” But my notes only indicate the title of that session, not that I got anything helpful from it. Now, a week later, I can’t remember anything about it. Maybe I bailed and went to lunch.
For the most part the presenters were accessible and self-deprecating and regardless of the topic listed in the program, they talked a lot about their writing process.
Here are some of my favorite take-aways about process:
- Write for good friends first and, then, the rest of the world.
- Write “your” book, not what is currently in vogue.
- “I have a turtle tattooed on my back” was what one writer said about the pace of her process.
- If the door is stuck [in the plot of your book], don’t bang your head on it, go around and jimmy a window.
- What is the “river” that is pulling your book forward? In other words what is the book really about.
- Failure is part of the process!
- Be prepared for multiple rewrites of drafts. Not three or four but sometimes as many as forty. (That made me want to take a nap!)
- Several presenters had taken 10 years to complete a book, although they may have had other things published along the way.
- On the panel about women publishing after age fifty, one of the presenters said the pub date of her first novel was a week before she was eligible for Medicare. The room erupted in applause. This session was packed, standing room only and part of the discussion was how women find time to writer with career, kids, family, aging parents, etc. #womenwritingafter50
On Friday night I attended a Joshua Bell concert at the Kennedy Center with my brother and sister-in-law. It was fabulous. He’s the rock star violinist.
All in all, I’m glad I went to AWP. But truthfully, I get more that is helpful to me in terms of writing craft from the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College.