I wanted to get right to work, and I knew part of the job would be to integrate the oldest version I had with the most recent. The oldest had all the raw material that I mostly wrote by hand from 2003 to 2005. I transcribed in onto the computer and when that task was daunting, hired someone to help with the transcription. The newest version, from sometime in 2008 had been through years of editing and was more polished and tightly written. I printed out the first chapter of each and started to read.
I got about three pages into one version, if that, and I realized, holy shit, this is going to be a nightmare to deal with. No wonder I haven’t looked at this mess in six years!
I just got home from AWP in Seattle. For those who haven’t heard of it, AWP is this massively huge swarm of writers that descends on a different city each year. This year, AWP took over the Washington State Convention Center, an Annex and the Seattle Sheraton. Someone told me that the total number of people registered was 14,000. Unless you count music festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella, I’ve never been around that many people in such a concentrated space.
There are oodles of writing-related panels. In fact, for every time slot, there are, oh, I don’t know, twenty or more different offerings. And then there are outside events, readings, contest winner announcements, drinking with some vague literary theme in mind, and then more panels. There’s also a bookfair, which is huge. This one was split into two separate rooms, that’s how huge it was. Booths everywhere. Books everywhere. Writers milling around booths and looking at books everywhere.
I was a total AWP virgin, open to all kinds of impression and experience.
So, here are some things I learned over the last three days:
I’m so glad I went, too. I almost didn’t. I haven’t really written much in awhile, and have felt like work takes over my life. But I had put in for the time off back in April or something, so I said what the hell and signed up. I thought if nothing else, at least I’d have a few days away. The festival was held at Moran State Park which is a good drive from my place, so I stayed overnight in one of the cabins during the festival.
The festival blew my expectations out of the water! The instructors were EXCELLENT! A lot of them teach at Vermont College of Fine Arts which has a low-residency MFA writing program. In the mornings, we had small workshop groups. I chose the non-fiction track, and so each morning, our small group gathered to very thoroughly discuss our work. Each of us had to submit a ten-page sample of our writing before the festival, so we spent considerable time each morning, working with a few people’s work each day. It was great. I forgot how great it is, not only to get feedback on your own work, but to work as a group on others’ stories. You learn so much. I felt so engaged, like my inner artist was engaged in a way it hasn’t been in so long. I was exercising my writing muscles. It was great even to go over some of the basics of story arc and point of view. I didn’t realize I was so hungry for this sort of thing. But oh was I ever! It fed my soul, and my soul has been a bit starving as of late.
This past weekend I went to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) conference. It was incredible.
Let’s get the one tiny bit of bad news out of the way first. When I got home and checked my email, the first one I had was a rejection email from an agent. Months ago I went to a public reading and read the first chapter of my book, and someone I met there passed my name along to an agent, and so I sent in that same first chapter to that agent, who decided to pass on asking to see more. She wrote me a nice, personal note on my submission though. From what I’ve heard, it’s definitely a good sign to get personalized rejections.