At AWP last week, I felt fortunate for the opportunity, yet overwhelmed about “making the most of it” and also, walking around D.C., I felt like an imposter. People wore business suits and bluetooths and walked with purpose, while I felt dazed and hungry and underdressed, and if that isn’t a metaphor for adulthood (at least early adulthood), I don’t know what is.
AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) is the largest literary conference in North America. This year, over 12,000 people took part: ranging from graduate students to publishers to poets to memoirists to teachers to editors. Each day offered dozens of panels on a variety of topics. Here are some of the ones I attended: “What Journalists Can Teach Literary Writers,” “Writing from the Wound,” “Success, Failure, and The Green-Eyed Monster: Thriving in a Competitive Environment,” “The Craft of Empathy,” and “Writing Neighborhoods: (Re)Creating the Places We Live.”
I think too often we feel inspired and motivated at these types of conferences, but when we return to our lives, we remember laundry, grocery shopping, reading for class, and that motivation gets buried by to-do lists. Here are some of my favorite pieces of advice from AWP:
-immersion reporting is better than reconstructing narratives
-using first-person voice in journalism helps you come to terms with what you think you understand
-honest self-examination is far too rare
-honor life’s messiness. Life is open-ended, without a satisfying end. You don’t need to end with a “kicker.” Also, messy life is far more interesting.
-when writing about your own experiences, start by just saying what happened, as if you were writing an email to a friend.
-when writing about your past, here are some things that can help jog your memory: photographs, food, wikipedia (listening to the popular music from your childhood), and news headlines. When looking through family albums, think about the pictures that weren’t taken. What was under the surface? If writing about your family, sit collectively with your sisters to remember.
-When writing about unlikeable people, keep in mind that vilifying a character makes the narrator unreliable. Look beyond hurt and resentment to make a fully dimensional character. Imagine what someone might have been feeling, or what might have motivated them.
-Make a list of as many positive moments you can think of. Write that person in their element. What were they most comfortable doing?