On the AWP Conference: Guest Post by Jacqueline Maggio

If you didn’t attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference this weekend, you may be wondering what all the fuss was about. If you were there, you may be wishing you could re-live it…without the crowds. Fortunately for all of us, Jacqueline Maggio has written a reflection on her AWP experience and is sharing it here on Ex Libris. Jacqueline is a first-year MAWP student as well as a first-year Chicagoan (she hails from Rome, Italy). You can read more about Jacqueline’s AWP experience and more at her personal blog, fallingframes.wordpress.com. Thanks, Jacqueline!

The AWP Conference consists of three full-immersion days in the world of writers and publishers. It is held in a different location every year and this year it was held in Chicago. Some of us were lucky enough to get a free pass to the Conference and had to work a shift at the DePaul table in the BookFair section.

It was held at the Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue and the notion in itself suggested that it was going to be a huge event. As I entered the hotel and joined the line for registration, I started realizing what it all meant: ten thousand people roaming the halls, but more than that, ten thousand people who, like me, were somehow attached to this particular community – because they were editors, agents, readers, writers, aspiring writers, journalists, translators, staff of publishing houses, fans of a specific writer, professors, aspiring teachers, students.

I saw approximately ten panels in three days, I shook hands with successful and professional writers, I talked with independent press editors and staff, I interacted with all sorts of people and as I went on, slowly but surely, I got elated by the feeling that they could all understand me because, in some way, they were like me.

As I listened to the panels and took notes, I also understood that we were all there – all of us with laptops, notebooks, pieces of paper and pens – to learn something, to share something and to enjoy what we love doing the most – writing, or teaching, or reading, or editing. And all the professors, editors, bloggers and authors on the different podiums never stopped stressing one fact in particular: that one should never give up what one’s doing, and one should always keep on doing what one does because it’s what one loves the most. That’s why we should continue putting our energy and efforts in all our writing, editing, teaching – even when it seems most difficult, even when we get blocked and don’t seem to go anywhere, even when one of our pieces gets rejected twenty times.

It was an incredible experience, especially for me. In Rome, every year we hold a Fair of Independent Presses and Publishing Houses, and it’s quite large, but I’ve never seen so many people as there were at AWP.

I enjoyed myself because I learnt a lot – I have twenty pages of notes and literary magazines stacked on my desk – and I networked. I met new people from my own program and I went to my professor’s panels, feeling proud at being given the chance to work with them outside the boundaries of the Conference itself.

I learnt Tech tips, I learnt how to put together a short story collection, I learnt how much of my own life episodes I should insert in my stories, I learnt about travel writing and immersion memoir, I learnt how to use technology and blogs to get better known in the Internet community, I learnt the difficulties about the first publication, I learnt about the editor-author relationship.

I passed those revolving doors knowing almost nothing of this particular world and I ended with a vaster knowledge for which I’m grateful. I was able to listen to Margaret Atwood give her speech at the Auditorium Theatre and laughed at the irony in her words. Three thousand people fell silent as she said that a writer has his own bag of tools which is, alas, a bag of tricks. That we, as writers, have the power to make things and events go forwards, but also have the power to make them go backwards.

I told every professor I encountered that I found all of it overwhelming. I still think it was overwhelming, even two days later. I wish I had been two different people, to go in different rooms and follow every single panel. I wish I had more time to raid the Book Fair. And I also think it was what I needed the most, to see with my own eyes that “no writer is an island” and that every day, even if what we do is difficult and we at some point we all wish we’d chosen another job, we have to remember we are not alone, and there are other thousands of people staying up into the night to get a speech, a story, a poem, a lesson to its perfect point.

Tech-savy tips on how to keep your and your work organized:

  • Find and use specific tools – such as Dropbox, Hoot Suite and Office Word for writing and keeping your work neat and organized. Learn how to use simple Web Platforms in order to share your work – Tumblr, Flickr, Typad and WordPress are perfect for blogging and networking.
  • In Blogs, try to be inspired: use thematic posts (once a week) and add visual posts to your blog. Also, differentiate your topics when you’re writing just a personal blog, so as keep the reader interested. One important thing is to always be authentic as a person, and not to write things just to attract audience.

Tips and advice for authors and writers going writing their pieces and thinking about putting it out for publication:

  • First of all, one shouldn’t have its story get out of their hands until it’s completely done
  • The important thing in a short story or a novel is the emotional pulse point, the golden thread which one has to always follow
  • The writer must think about the reader’s experience and how the reader would read/feel the characters and the story itself;
  • When the reader reads the story he should relax and enjoy him/herself, and he shouldn’t be fumbling with the eventual mysteries or relationships or events in the piece
  • Always be persistent in pursuing publication, don’t get blue because of the rejections received – those are normal
  • Always remember that an editor is a person like you, therefore has its own tastes even when it comes to writing and reading stories
  • Don’t think that an editor wouldn’t like to read your work, just keep in mind that they might like something Not Similar to what they themselves write
  • It’s always good to be critical to one’s own work, but never overdo it
  • Always keep in mind the basic concept of finding a voice inside a piece and try to follow that one
  • Don’t rush; don’t pursue the famous side of being a writer, but do it because it’s what you love doing

2 comments on “On the AWP Conference: Guest Post by Jacqueline Maggio

  1. Amanda says:

    Thanks so much for your great post, Jacqueline. You summarized the whole event very well, and I really appreciated your sharing your notes with us. We were all indeed lucky to be part of such an amazing experience!

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