How to Make the Most Out of AWP

Three days may seem like a lot of time, but it will fly by quick so make sure to make the most of it. Veteran AWP attendees share their tips so that you have don’t waste a moment. Make sure to check out my other articles: What to Pack for AWP and Can’t Miss AWP Events.  

Make Friends: Here’s your chance to meet fellow writers from all over the world! Plus, see old friends too. There are plenty of opportunities to make new friends. When you’re waiting in line to register, enter a workshop, use the bathroom, etc. don’t look at your phone, instead chat with the person next to you. 

“Be open to networking… talking/meeting a lot of interesting people.” ~ Donnelle McGhee, Poet/Novelist and Publisher of Thera Books

“Meeting people in the exhibit hall and bathrooms. That's where all the best stuff happens.” ~ Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Fiction Writer

Take Notes! You will be happy you did later. You will be in many conversations where you mention your favorite author, and someone says, “If you like that author, you need to read…” They will mention books, literary magazines, movies, teaching resources, websites, MFA programs, people that you should contacts, must-go AWP events, where to eat in Portland, and much, much more. You’ll also be inspired so don’t let those ideas disappear: write them down. 

    “Take notes during or after every session so the learning infuses you and you can return to these notes.” 

~ Melissa (Misha) Cahnmann-Taylor, Poet & Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia  

    “Take time to jot down notes and reminders when the spirit moves you, and definitely before you go to sleep.”  ~ Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, Novelist and Memoirist; Faculty at Goddard College MFAW; Hedgebrook Alumna and Teacher for Hedgebrook’s Vortex Salon 

Read the Schedule in Advance: Don’t waste a moment of the conference pouring over the extensive conference brochure. Instead, visit right now and start looking at events. You will be amazed by how many there are. The great thing about the website is that you can search by authors or keywords. You can also create an online schedule. Make sure to download the AWP app so that you can access this schedule during the conference. 

    “Make a game plan. Look at the scheduled and decide what you can't afford to miss.” ~ Sherri L. Smith, Young Adult Novelist

    “Have a plan. It'll get mostly tossed, but still it's good to have a plan.” ~ Sandra Gail Lambert, Writer

    “Select target panels from the schedule in advance and map their locations.” ~ Aimee Liu, Goddard College MFA Faculty

“Definitely go through the schedule before you get there, and use the online tool to create your own wishlist of panels. It took me more than a half hour. Chances are, there are more you want to hear than you can fit into your schedule.” ~ Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, Novelist and Memoirist; Faculty at Goddard College MFAW; Hedgebrook Alumna and Teacher for Hedgebrook’s Vortex Salon 

    “Research the panels and events you'd like to attend and create your own conference schedule. Make time for chance encounters. And remember to enjoy yourself. It's a great opportunity to speak with publishers, editors and fellow writers.” ~Helene Cardona, Poet & Translator

Be Flexible with Your Schedule: Do make a schedule, but do also be open to change. You will hear about great events. You will end up in fantastic conversations. You will realize the book fair takes longer than you thought. 

    “Make a schedule beforehand, but be willing to deviate from it because there is so much to do, and you can't do it all, but you can try.” 

~Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Poet and Translator

“Have a plan, but don't be afraid to improvise and change it. If you don’t plan in advance you could overlook something important, but if you’re too rigid about sticking to your plan, you could miss a great opportunity.” .”`~ Melissa Studdard, Poet & President of the Women's Caucus

“Choose a small handful of events you absolutely wouldn't want to miss and attend those. Otherwise, let serendipity happen.” 

~ Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Fiction Writer

You Will Be Overwhelmed: There will be more things happening than you are able to do, many will be happening at the same time. Prioritize the few that are absolute must-attends for you, and for the others, go with the flow. If you make it, great, but if not, then you experienced something else that was great. Allow the creative journey to happen. 

“Pace yourself. Because there is so much going on at once, it is easy to burn out.” ~Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Poet and Translator

    “Pace yourself. Make a schedule for each day’s panels and offsites, and feel great about yourself if you manage to make it to 50% of them.”

~ Cooper Lee Bombardier, Writer

“It's so easy to be wildly overwhelmed. Just realize that you won't see everything, hear everyone, so just be open and relaxed, and enjoy being in a huge community of word and story lovers. Rather than let the hugeness swamp you, let it energize you.” ~ Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Fiction Writer

Go Offsite! Some of the best events happen away from the convention center. Make sure to look at all the great AWP Offsite events. These events are so good that there are people that only go to them. (But don’t do that—check out some of everything.) 

Have a Back-Up Plan: Occasionally, panels get cancelled or moved. (Last year, a snowstorm had a noticeable effect on the schedule as several presenters were late or not able to come.) I always plan for my second, and sometimes even third, choice. Also, you might go to your first choice and it’s not what you expected, or it’s not your cup tea. In this case, quietly exit—it’s not a dinner party, it’s your career. Speakers expect that a few folks might leave, and others might come late. When you exit, you can quietly attend another panel of interest, or maybe this is the moment that you get another coffee. 

Schedule Downtime: You will have the desire to do everything, but make sure to plan sometime for yourself. There may also be time slots when no panel is of interest, and that might be a good time for a break, or a snack. Of course, there’s the book fair, which you could spend all three days in. 

“This is not a writing residency. Just go to the panels you’re interested in.”~ Erika T. Wurth, Fiction Writer & Professor

‘Breathe. No need to try to pack too much in.” ~ Donnelle McGhee, Poet/Novelist and Publisher of Thera Books 

Try Something New: There’s a huge variety of events at AWP. Make sure to go to at least one event that’s not in your genre. Explore a topic that you’ve never thought about before, perhaps something that you normally would not consider. This could change not just your perspective, but also give you inspiration for new writing.   

“Get out of your own skin and see a presentation that ‘seems’ to appeal to a ‘not me’ perspective (another genre, another ethnic group focus). Find your way to learning about the diversity of human and non-human experience through creative writing.” 

~ Melissa (Misha) Cahnmann-Taylor, Poet & Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia  

“Be open to other genres - go to sessions that sound interesting even if they are not in your ‘area’ and you'll be surprised how much your creativity can be sparked.” ~Andy Pederson, Associate Professor of English, Concordia University Chicago; Playwright

Save Time for the Bookfair! The bookfair will blow your mind. To see a room where all you can see are literary magazines and books is every writer’s dream. Creative nonfiction writer Sarah Einstein describes it as a literary citizenship incarnate. When asked what not to miss, ~ writer Sandra Gail Lambert said, “The spectacular carnival midway that is the floor of the bookfair.”

Like the event schedule, having a game plan for the book fair is also a good idea. Make a list of presses that you love or want to know more about, and make visiting them a priority. If you’re considering getting an MFA, make a list of the schools that you want to visit. Look at the book fair map and make a plan of the ways to visit your priorities, and make sure to stop at other booths along the way. I recommend visiting before Saturday as Saturday morning is the busiest time (bring a cattle prod) and by Saturday afternoon some of the vendors have left. 

“My first year at AWP I made a list of the journals that had accepted my work and made sure to go to their booths and thank them. I thought this was a much better plan than the one of approaching the journals that always rejected me and begging the staff to tell me why, why, why they hated my writing.” 

~ Sandra Gail Lambert, Writer

    “I attended my first conference as a way to meet representatives from specific MFA programs. It was a bit overwhelming, but an excellent alternative to visiting faraway campuses. (If you’re interested in getting an MFA, this is absolutely the best conference for you.)” 

~ Carla Norton, Author of Crime Fiction and True Crime

“I spend a great deal of time at the book fair meeting new people and seeing old friends.” ~Helene Cardona, Poet & Translator

“If it's your first year, and you feel like the odd man out, don't worry. In three years, you won't be able to walk through the bookfair without at least five hugs.” 

~ Sarah Einstein, Creative Nonfiction Writer

Most Importantly: Have Fun!