Reflection on AWP 2023

If you’ve been around the publishing industry or the literary world for a while, then you probably know what the AWP conference is. If not, I’ll do my best to fill you in.

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) is an organization that supports writers, writing professionals, and writing programs in their work towards diversity and excellence. Each year AWP puts on a conference where readers, writers, academics, literary magazines, small presses, publishing houses, and creative arts programs meet and share their insights and expertise. During the 3-day conference there are hundreds of panels every hour on tons of writing topics. Then, there’s more booths set-up for you to meet other writing enthusiasts in all kinds of fields.

This was my first year at AWP, and I was ecstatic to attend. As I told my parents, I “nerded out everyday, all-day” over panels, authors, literary magazines, small presses, publishing houses, free books, poetry-readings, and new contacts to reach out to. I essentially left AWP feeling equally overwhelmed as I was excited.

With this blog, I’m hoping to share a few tips that I gathered from my time at AWP. Of course, to share all the new tips and thoughts it would take several blog posts, so I’ll do my best to condense.

#1 Why Detail Matters

I’ve worked with students and creative writers on using detail inn academic papers and creative writing, and almost every time I bring up detail, I’m met with rejection or hesitancy. Personally, I write with lots of detail (though, I’ve learned how to scale it down and/or adjust it), so when I’m met with disdain for writing, it surprises me.

In a panel I attended on “Thisness” and detail in fiction, the presentations discussed detail not as a choice in writing, but a necessity, explaining that detail provides setting, character, atmosphere, threats, subplots, and themes or symbols for the story in nuanced and significant ways. Detail balances a story and provides alternate ways for a reader to become invested in a story. Without it, the story is monotonous.

If you’re not sure where to start, consider the following:

  • Think about how short, specific details can allow a reader to travel from an external POV to an internal POV.
  • Consider how particular details can show how a character perceives the place, situation, and/or other characters.
  • Returning and reusing details from a character’s POV can show their development over the course of the story.

#2 Differences Between Types of Fiction

I’ve always been aware of the differences between literary and genre fiction, but I never knew how significant this difference was in the literary industry. If you’re unfamiliar with the difference, genre fiction is what we see in superhero movies and some of the classic high-fantasy series. Genre fiction is fantasy, sci-fi, and action/adventure that can examine larger concepts and philosophies, but it is often intertwined with major plot devices and conflicts. On the other hand, literary fiction doesn’t fit into a genre category because it pulls from various categories such as fiction, nonfiction, and philosophy. Literary fiction is usually character driven and intends to analyze the human condition in a very direct way.

Most of the literary journals and small presses I had the pleasure of speaking with didn’t accept genre fiction. For whatever reason, I don’t know. Though, it was clear that when I brought up genre-fiction with some individuals (definitely not all), an aire of prestige reign over our conversation and I was quickly the inferior conversationalist. Other individuals were respectful of my genre fiction writing but upheld that they didn’t accept it in their journal.

Literary fiction is hot right now (at least what I’ve seen in the early 2020s). Genre fiction is too in different sectors of the publishing industry. It’s important to keep in mind that many people hold disdain for other genres, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or that you’re doing something wrong. You just have to find your community within the larger writing and publishing community.

My point being: make sure you know how to present your work within your genre, where you’re submitting your work, and what journals, presses, and houses are right for you.

#3 Why You Should Read Literary Journals

I had never thought about reading literary journals in the past. I saw them as fragments of stories pieced together in some imagined theme or fashion. However, when I went to AWP, my opinion changed.

Literary journals bring together the best work submitted to a particular journal or magazine and provide an array of beautiful work. This collection of work is often demonstrative of particularly intriguing craft elements, unique new perspectives, and gorgeous prose that highlights current or reimagined writing trends. While the editors of the journal may have seen some interwoven theme, that doesn’t mean you have to. You can still appreciate artwork and gain insight into writing, the human condition, and how your work fits into these perceived genres with just a one stanza poem or a story 1000-word story.

After AWP I had several new editions and issues of literary journals from around the nation. Frankly, I didn’t know what to do with all of them. But what else does one do with so many new stories? READ THEM! And I wasn’t disappointed. I found several poems and short stories that commented on similar themes that I’m also working on in my series and own poetry.

By reading literary journals you’re staying up-to-date on the writing and publishing industry and getting a taste of where you might fit in. Not to mention, gaining new perspectives on life events and experiences can improve your own characters and plots.

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