On Introverts and Parties

It’s time for that somewhat obligatory blog post about the AWP Conference. Most of the posts I’ve read have fallen somewhere in the realm of “here is a list of awkward things I said/did” or just the more general “here’s why AWP is awkward.” My favorites are Courtney Maum’s “A Field Guide to AWP” and “Panic! At the AWP Disco” by Karyna McGlynn.

 I like to uphold tradition, so first, here’s why AWP is awkward.

I think this Venn diagram pretty much sums it up:

Image credit: I Love Charts

But if you want more of a visual, here’s what a lot of people were doing at the downtown Chicago Hilton between February 29 and March 4, 2012:

Image Credit: Family and Technology

So why? Why would over 10,000 writers, editors, and publishers get together this year in Chicago in MARCH for what is basically an ironically huge gathering of introverts?

I can think of at least one good reason. For three days when people asked me about my job, they did not follow up by asking what I like to write about, asking what I will “do with that”, or asking me to read their manuscripts. Which is kind of a gift. How often do you get to say that you’re in an MFA program or that you’re a writer without facing those same terrible questions that just have no good answers? Those questions are exactly why I don’t speak to people on airplanes, but at AWP, I was free of that concern. Everybody there was a writer.

Everybody there was a writer. Refer to the first photograph and the guy in the corner. This was my first writing conference, and I learned that it heightens everyone’s neuroses because it forces us to realize that there are so many people doing the exact same thing. Which is energizing and awe-inspiring! And frightening because although most of us are introverts, we are introverts who have this contrary desire to be noticed for our writing. Knowing that there are 9,999 other people trying to do the same thing is fun because you get to drink with people who also know who D.A. Powell is…and unsettling because there are just so. many. of. you.

Still, all of those smart people you get to hang out with are inspiring, and that sensory overload that makes you go like this

does turn into inspiration for your own writing. I went to off-site readings, parties, and several panels that have had me inspired and scribbling long after the end of the conference. Among the panels was Cathy Day’s panel on teaching novel writing and a panel on conceptual women’s writing. That particular anthology (titled I’ll Drown My Book) I can’t wait to own, since Les Figues Press sold out of it at the bookfair. I learned something at every event, found out about new presses and literary organizations, and tried to stuff too many books into my tote bag. And when I finally was alone with a notebook, words started pouring out of me in a way that they hadn’t the week before when I was teaching and taking classes.

So, even though AWP is awkward, I think the jump start of inspiration and the chance to have fun with fellow writers are two very good reasons to go. That, and all of the delicious book fair shopping.

Image Credit: Marginalia

Happy post-AWP reading and writing!