Ask the Aliens: Should I Go to AWP?
I'm writing because I hate something that I may not be able to avoid for the rest of my career as a writer: AWP.
I think of myself as a pretty hateful person. I'll come right out and tell you that I hate aliens. I hate space too. I also hate my dad, some tv shows everybody else like, and the big writer conference that is about to go down this week in Los Angeles. And yet despite that, every year I wind up hating myself for not going to AWP.
I'm not exactly sure why I hate AWP so much. I've never gone to it before. But there are things that bother me about the idea of the conference more than the conference itself. Registration alone is way too expensive, forget about the travel expenses. Some people in a boardroom are getting rich off of our love of words. Why give in to a corporate-backed writing-industrial complex? How is that serving artistic creativity? There is a promise that just attending will increase the amount you're published, or taken seriously as a writer, or even just liked as a person that I just think is bullshit.
But then, why am I so attracted to the idea of AWP? I'm allegedly "in" the "writing community" and wind up spending four days obsessively reading what people are saying about AWP on Twitter, decoding the gossip, then following along with the fallout in the weeks to come. Why shouldn't I just go? It's not really the money. I'm just sitting here, probably working on a flash fiction I will probably never finish because every time I look at the words on the screen all I can see are three big letters: A, W, and P.
Seriously, are there any letters that look that big when you put them next to each other?
Should I go to AWP? I know it's too late this year, but what about the future? I think my feelings are divided between the FOMO side and the loathing, socially anxious hermit I know myself to be. Should I just wait and see if it ever comes close to where I live so I don't spend so much? Or should I just say fuck it, and live and write the way I want to for the rest of my life?
Please aliens, I want to know.
Way Off-Site Reader
Dear Way Off-Site Reader,
Since you asked the aliens about going to AWP, imagine what an alien would think and feel visiting the conference. Would they walk through the bookfair just cataloging all of the books on display, each one like a strange artifact of this planet that could be used as a summary of human experience and knowing? Would they decide to interact with the people that they meet there? Would they walk away from it all, and start to visit the rooms in the hotels, looking for real stories? You don't know because you are not an alien, you are a human writer. And like all human writers, you are allowed to go to AWP and hate every second of it.
Look: your misgivings are all really good misgivings! AWP is run by a for-profit corporate entity. Who knows where all that money goes! Attending the conference will probably do absolutely nothing for you career. And, yes, if you're not rich, it's probably going to damage your financial standing. You call it bullshit, and you're right: going to AWP does not mean you'll get published, be recognized, or feel liked.
But isn't that a promise that you made all by yourself? Is it possible that since you're not getting published, being recognized, or feeling liked right now, you want AWP to present that promise? This way, you can blame them for not following through. According to your magical logic not going AWP=not having any of those things you want for your career. That's just not true. You can continue to be unsuccessful and go, or you can stay home and wind up having it all. Both can come true, and you know it.
My advice is to go to find out what it's like if you ever can. Do it as cheaply as possible. Go when it's in your city or nearby, try to get on a panel for the discount rate, volunteer to work a journal or press's table. Don't actually register and just visit all the free off-sites. You may find out you like it. Maybe all the bullshit promises will come true. And if you still wind up hating it, you never have to do it again. You can be the alien at AWP, documenting this strange world. Then you can move on to a planet made of nothing but one long beach, where you will read and write, swim, and be alone.
Ask the Aliens is a monthly feature on Misreader. You can read the open call here, and you can read all of the previous letters here. Send your questions to misreaderblog at gmail dot com with "Ask the Aliens" in the subject line.
Top image from Flickr user Richard Riley https://www.flickr.com/photos/rileyroxx/