Now What? In the Afterglow of AWP15...
Leslie Pietrzyk | May 2015
You had an amazing time at AWP15. You snagged seats at the best panels and readings, collected armloads of swag/books/journals at the bookfair, connected with old friends, and made new friends at the bar or elsewhere. Your selfie with the Mary Tyler Moore statue got 52 likes on Instagram. Now it’s back to home and the same old routine. How can you keep that conference energy going with the real world pressing hard?
My post-conference plan tackles business and writing. I’m usually a checklist-wielding tyrant, but this plan is flexible, without deadlines, meaning it’s not too late to adopt some of these strategies.
I’ll assume you’re like me, surrounded by an overwhelming heap of cards and flyers and books and journals and scribbled notes and half-remembered promises. Sort it out ruthlessly. Admit you actually won’t use that temporary tattoo you picked up, and throw it away, along with the pens you don’t like and the leaky water bottles. (Sometimes this happens in the hotel room before an early flight.) Cram the books into your crowded shelves. Sort the journals from the cards and flyers. Read over the cards and flyers and ask:
Must I act on this now? You have a poem to send; you want to enter your collection; there’s a deadline. Then, do these things. Make the time as soon as possible, mentioning the connection with AWP. (Don’t psych yourself out by worrying about everyone else sending in their stuff immediately. Half of those people will forget or procrastinate.)
Did I meet this person and have a substantive conversation? Follow up with them. Do not think it’s too soon. Do not think it’s too late. Now is exactly the right time. Send a simple email: “Great to meet you at AWP; I enjoyed our conversation about X.” Or thank them: “I love X journal, and it was wonderful to meet a face behind the masthead. I look forward to sending my work during the next reading period.” Do what you said you were going to do: “You mentioned you’d be in my hometown and like Thai food. Here are my favorite places.”
Maybe you didn’t meet someone one on one, but their panel changed your life. Let them know: “I went to your panel on X at AWP and it was incredible because Y.” Gratitude costs you nothing! Thank the AWP staff while you’re at it. They work really hard.
Honestly, if you don’t send out at least 10 such emails/texts/PMs after AWP, I don’t think you’re doing it right.
- Will I act on this later? Slide those cards and flyers into a folder, and then dump that folder into the trash. Oh, kidding, kinda. If you honestly will remember that folder and look through it six months from now, save it. Everyone else, accept that it’s clutter, and trust that the knowledge you gained will linger.
As for the journals: Admit you won’t get to all of them. Select the journals you most want to read. Once a day, pick up a different journal and read one thing. After a few weeks, move the remaining journals into the other pile, the pile you probably aren’t going to read. Pass those along to your writer friends and/or your students.
If any journals that you read feel like matches for your work, submit, if they’re reading. If they’re not reading submissions, add the title of the journal to your ongoing computer list of journals you admire. Write a few comments about the work you read to include in your cover letter. Note the names of any editors you met at the bookfair. Pass along the journal!
Finally, I list the journals I subscribed to during AWP and watch for their arrival, especially if I paid cash.
AWP is a great place to learn about the literary marketplace, but we really go for inspiration, to further our art. Here’s what I do to keep that creative energy burning until AWP16. Remember, it is not too late for any of these ideas. The right time to take action is now.
- I take notes when I’m in a panel, and after the conference I read them over and share thoughts/ideas on my blog or via social media. Spread the brilliance! Plus, I’m then more likely to remember those gems.
- I’ve also scribbled ideas for my own work in progress in this notebook, so post-conference I go through each page to cull those.
- I copy the most inspiring remarks on pieces of paper that I tuck in odd spots—random books, a summer purse—assuming I’ll find them months later and feel re-inspired.
- I choose one thing I learned or heard or read to pin on my bulletin board to remind me of the conference.
- I always come home brimming with resolutions. Form a group! Start a journal! Choose one idea, and take the steps to move forward, whether it’s as grand as opening a press or as simple as swapping work. Don’t find excuses for why you can’t do this one measly thing. Simply start.
- Your one idea might be to propose a panel for next year’s conference, which, alas, does have a deadline (already passed), but in the future, don’t be shy. Most writers are excited to be invited onto a panel if you’re doing the proposing!
- Meet your local writer friends who didn’t get to AWP, and share your impressions, your leftover swag, and your journals. Meet your local writer friends who did go, and share gossip. Make it a writing date!
- AWP is amazing, but it’s likely there was a bad moment: the famous writer who was indifferent, the grad school frenemy lording a fancy publication. Decide how much time you’ll waste brooding. And then get yourself on track. You are a writer, you are part of the tribe, and you belong with us. Get busy writing.
- Make your hotel reservation for AWP in LA the minute the hotels open!
See you in 2016!
Illustrations by Anita White.
Leslie Pietrzyk’s collection of linked short stories, This Angel on My Chest, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and will be published by University of Pittsburgh Press in October. She teaches fiction in the low-residency MFA program at Converse College. Her literary blog can be found at www.workinprogressinprogress.com, and you can follow her on Twitter: @lesliepwriter.