I’m no stranger to Chicago. Having been born and raised in Valparaiso, Chicago has always been the place to go for anything fun, whether it’s for sporting events, concerts, or just a day in the city.
The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) held its annual conference a couple weeks ago, and the English Department was kind enough to pay for my registration and travel to the event. I became as prepared as I could, not really knowing what to expect, and took the train to the Van Buren St. station.
I walked into the hotel knowing what sessions I was going to, but not knowing what I was going to learn in them. However, one of the first things I learned came to me right when I entered the Hilton: I am not alone. Of course, I know there is a vast multitude of writers trying to succeed, but the conference really put this into perspective. Thousands of people flooded the main floor of the garish hotel, a truly diverse crowd. But we were all there for one reason: to improve our craft.
I attended three sessions. The first dealt with the issue of “place” in fiction. Some of the speakers in this session found it to be the perfect opportunity to read their work and not really expound upon it. While I enjoyed their writing, I don’t think they fulfilled the promise of the session.
In the second session, the speakers focused on how to market yourself and your work to a) get an agent and b) get published. Writers must learn how to market their work. Without this ability, they won’t get published. And no matter how much you tell yourself you’re not writing for money, the truth is you are. We love what we do so much, we want to do it for a living. To live, well, you need money.
The speakers were lively and it made the whole experience enjoyable and more informative in the process. The most helpful thing, though, was that they were honest. The writers participating were in various stages of their careers: some of them were still struggling to find an agent and get their first book publish, others already have books published. This was profoundly beneficial to the audience. We got to hear professors of writing and editors of journals expressing their frustration with the publishing process. Though it sounds like a painful topic to sit through, the speakers made it entertaining, and I learned a lot from it.
The third session I attended was a discussion on the importance of “voice” in fiction and non-fiction and why it’s important, as a writer, to be able to shift from one voice to another in your various works. Again, many of the speakers merely read their work and sat down without really explaining why it applied to the topic, but this one was more helpful than the first. I learned that I shouldn’t be concentrating on developing my “voice,” but, rather, my “voices.” Each and every piece I write needs to have its own voice. Daunting, but useful.
Ultimately, the AWP Conference was a great experience. The best lesson of all was seeing how much competition there is. And that was only a fraction of it.
(Above: My blurry picture of Navy Pier)