The process of creating art fires neurons in the right side of our brains. Planning and organization processes in the left side. Planning the most creative use of one’s time at North America’s largest literary conference requires whole-brain thinking.
Every artist I interviewed on my cross-country U.S. road trip understood the role of planning in living an art-committed life. Often it involved planning one’s day, to balance employer, family, and art. For the 2013 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference March 6-9, it requires planning one’s every minute. At least for me it does. How do I, in a few short days, squeeze in the best of hundreds of panel discussions, and hundreds more exhibitors? By asking myself questions.
- What is it I most want to get out of this year’s AWP? This is my fifth straight AWP. Two years ago my goal was to find just the right low-residency MFA program. I discovered the Vermont College of Fine Arts at that AWP, and now I’m months away from graduating. Last year I wanted to gain a better understanding of what literary journals published creative non-fiction. I came home with dozens of journals, and (too many) subscriptions. This year my focus is on learning more about publishing options for my memoir, which I am only a few months away from completing.
- What is the one thing I absolutely cannot miss? When building out my schedule, I consider this my tent pole, the one support structure that everything else is built around. For me this year there are three, all hosted by VCFA: an alumni reading (I’ll read at that), a dinner, and a reception. But it could be anything. A reading by one of your favorite authors. A panel discussion right in your wheelhouse. Drinks with a friend you haven’t seen in a year.
- What is one area in which I want to grow as a writer? There are so many panel discussions it’s hard to choose. Even if I spent the entire conference in panel discussions, I would still have more than one in each time slot I’d want to attend. (I strongly recommend NOT going to panel discussions in every time slot; the heart and soul of AWP is the Bookfair trade floor.) As I work on writing my graduation lecture on novelistic writing elements of biographies, I’m realizing I’m hungry to learn more about the biography craft. So I’m hitting a panel Thursday morning with biographers who will be sharing tips on writing history convincingly.
Were I to add up the hours I’ve spent prepping for this year’s AWP, it would likely approache the amount of time I will actually spend at the conference. I’ve got a script worked out to the fifteen-minute mark. There’s some room for improvisation built in–I have intentionally not made Thursday night dinner plans, so I can be open to possibilities–but I also know that I have to be willing to abandon my script should circumstances dictate.
There’s one reward a good writer’s conference brings that doesn’t require planning. That is the sense of fellowship one feels, being surrounded by others who share your peculiar passion. Perhaps I should think of that reward as the tent pole of this year’s AWP.
Am I performing overkill here? Would it be wiser for me to just immerse myself in the conference and let things happen as they will? Oh, and stay tuned for daily AWP Nuggets from my time in Boston!