15,000 writers.  15,000!!  The very idea of that many word-workers in one place makes my heart flutter.

The AWP Book Fair.  Photo from The Superstition Review

The AWP Book Fair.
Photo from The Superstition Review

Tomorrow, P and I leave for the Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Seattle.  And tonight, I will barely sleep with excitement (and because I still have so much work to finish before I leave).

AWP is one of my favorite events every year because I get to be around writers and professors, publishers and agents, all people who get it, who understand that words are important to the very soul of who we are as individuals and a culture.  Plus, there’s a bookfair with tables and tables and tables of books and literary journals . . . . oh the joy!

But AWP is also hard because, well, I’m an introvert, so all those people make me weary . . . and leary.  I’m not normally a shy person, but around this many amazing writers, I get a little meek.  (You should have seen me when I passed Nikki Finney in the bookfair two years ago – I think I squeaked “hi.”)

And I get a little intimidated.  Who am I to be here with these talented people?  If I’m not careful, those chattering voices of negativity that I work so hard to quiet start shouting loud and clear.

Still, this year, I’m making it a point to go to more off-site (i.e. smaller) events, to see more of my friends read, to be more willing to introduce myself and hand out my business card.  Maybe it’s because I will carry a copy of The Slaves Have Names with me. . . or maybe it’s just that finally, after 10 years of attendance, I know I belong there.

So stay tuned. I’ll be blogging from the conference and tweeting it, too.  And if you’re going to be there, definitely let me know.  I’m all about the AWP coffee meet-up. 

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Conferences are expensive and time-consuming and, yes, intimidating.  Still, I think that writers who are serious about our art will find great benefit in them.

1. Conferences burst bubbles. At any writing conference, you’re bound to meet people who see writing and the world very differently than you do.  For example, one writer I know came to AWP a couple of years back and noted how “secular” people were. . . a comment which made me laugh because, well, AWP isn’t a religious conference after all.  Bubbles explode like grenades for attendees who are willing to be challenged.

2. Conferences affirm writers in a culture that doesn’t give us much affirmation. There’s nothing like being with thousands of people to whom you don’t have to justify your work or your passion for words.  Nothing like it.

3. Conferences help us meet people. Every year, I meet a few new people and reconnect with people I’ve known for a long time.  These people often become friends over plates of french fries or thing glasses filled with olive juice and vodka.  We stay in touch after we go home.  We help each other with projects.   In other words, we network, but without the suits and with more scarves.

4. Conferences introduce us to new writers. A couple of years back I wandered into a packed room where everyone was in rapt awe of the speaker, a man I had barely heard of at the time.  That man was Wendell Berry, and as I sat with my knees under my chin against a sliding room divided, I fell in love, too.  Happens every year.

5. Conferences humble us. While it is easy to get down on ourselves as writers, it’s also easy to begin to think too much of ourselves, to begin to think our words the most important. A conference reminds us that the words of others are just as valuable and that just because we have a modicum of success (or don’t), we are not guaranteed anything. Great talents go largely unknown, and hacks get famous.  A conference reminds us that it’s the work that matters, not the response.

So those of you who go to writing conferences, what is the value of them for you?