March 5, 2018 § 4 Comments
As AWP draws near, first-time conference attendees and veterans alike stand over half-filled suitcases, frantically scrolling weather apps while trying to pack for the snowstorm on the way to the airport, the tropical humidity in which they will land, and the convention-center air-conditioning (setting: Meat Locker) in which they’ll spend most of their time.
The questions are endless: What do I wear to the Dance Party? How many minutes per room must I spend for two simultaneous panels, one containing three friends and a recent ex, and the other two mentors and a dream agent? What’s the proper conversational opening to a group of editors, 3/5 of whom have previously rejected my work?*
The Brevity Editors are here to help! Pooling our years of experience (25 years, 8 years, 6 years, and 1 ½ days), we present the Definitive AWP 2018 Packing/Preparation Guide:
- Cute summer dress because Tampa! Fleece blanket to use as shawl in over-air-conditioned conference hotel. (May substitute manpris and higher basal body temperature)
- Brand new sandals/mandals for walking shoes with cute summer dress/manpris. Band-aids. Iodine. Antibiotic ointment. Last year’s sneakers.
- SPF 188.
- Bathing suit for the Marriott hot tub. T-shirt to wear over bathing suit. Additional t-shirt to wear over t-shirt. Water shorts.
- Notes on elevator pitches to hone on the plane.
- Hormone replacement regimen because perimenopause! And Tampa!
- Virginia Woolf tote bag. No, F. Scott Fitzgerald finger puppet. No, both. None. OK, just the finger puppet. Pageboy wig. Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Vintage lunchbox.
- Airplane reading: Friend’s manuscript you owe feedback on. Student papers to grade. Six oldest New Yorkers from the pile. Entire lit mag slush pile. Lincoln in the Bardo. Infinite Jest.
- Business cards with your old email on them. Call Office Depot to determine if new cards can be a) fast b) cheap and c) attractive. Begin penciling in new email on each card. Call department secretary to see if you can have your old email back.
- Ten copies of your book. No, eleven. No, three. No, none. No, twelve. Bring one and forget it (and student papers) on the plane.
- VGA to HDMI to VHS to BluRay to hamster wheel to clean coal adapters for panel. Post-it notes, index cards, and six colors of dry-erase markers for other panel.
- Power Point of key panel slides on your phone in case of laptop failure. Power Point of your WIP on your phone in case of literary agent in elevator.
- Hand-held folding fan steeped in cannabinoid oil and lavender. Look chic and mysterious as you fend off imposter syndrome, panic attacks and neurological disaster.
- White-noise app. Noise-canceling headphones. Earplugs. Note from last year reminding yourself “[Roommate] SNORES.”
- Flash cards with photos of keynote speakers so you can recognize them at cocktail party. Self-ejecting jet pack in case emergency party escape is needed. Portable smoke machine because go big or go home.
- Novelty hand buzzer.
- That Starbucks gift card you got four months ago from a student you thought hated you but didn’t after all, and that you’ve saved for “a special occasion.” Please note: lobby Starbucks closes at 2PM.
- Nine pens.
- Color-coded, strategically-plotted, much-folded-and-re-folded printout of schedule, including personal plans A, B, and C, with pop-up 3-D flowchart and Venn diagrams. Leave on table in lobby Starbucks at 1:58 PM.
- Xanax. Pepto Bismol. Extra-strength Tylenol. Tylenol PM. Tylenol with codeine. Nyquil. Advil. Advil PM. Benadryl. Calamine lotion. Quaaludes.
- Printout of Sober AWP meeting list. Downloaded version of Big Book. Sponsor’s cell number. Therapists’ cell numbers. Pocket guide to 12 steps. Mindfulness meditations. Blindfold. Cigarette.
- Wine. IT’S A PRESENT.
- Chapbook from your favorite poet, so you can “casually” bump into them and “just happen” to have their book on you and they’ll be so delighted they get your deconstructed villanelle fast-tracked at Poetry.
- Updated CV. Just in case.
- Entire choreography to Beyonce’s “Lemonade” (memorized and practiced obsessively instead of panel prep) for the dance party or just making people uncomfortable in elevators.
- List of key points for MFA or no-MFA debate because that never gets old.
- Emotional support pack mule.
*(Answers: Orange; 26/32+17 minutes navigating from Ballroom A to Grand Salon C; “How ‘bout those liminal spaces?!”)
February 6, 2018 § 10 Comments
By Lisa Romeo
During several periods in my writing life I attended no conferences, and other times I could get to just a few, dictated by a confluence of budget, geography, travel logistics, day-job demands, family obligations. When I could attend, I had to be picky.
I came to understand that a conference will not make me a better writer or a more published writer by itself. But the right conference can help to make me into a writer who better knows how to identify, create, pursue, participate in, and evaluate the writing life, career, projects, and submission/publication plan that will work best for me, and make me happy.
So, I thought I’d offer this list, and hope it has some value for others. All these things lined up for me last year when I attended HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers, and I hope my list might be helpful to others attempting to choose the right conference:
What makes a writing conference right:
It directly, seriously, fully, and openly addresses, embraces, and celebrates the genre or category of writing most important to you. If you can find it, specialization rocks! One big reason I love Hippocamp is that it’s focused on CNF writing. Yes, I learn a lot at conferences that aren’t so specialized, but a hyper-focused event means you are with your tribe. Everything that happens, each break-out session, panel, reading, or other element is for folks who write what you write.
Enough of what’s on offer is for writers at your skill and/or experience level. Yes, it’s good when some sessions push you to extend your reach; that’s good for learning what to aspire to. But do you want to spend all day, or most of many days, feeling either completely overwhelmed because you have no idea what the speakers are talking about, or bored and antsy because you already know and have mastered what’s being covered.
The mix, intent, and focus of material jives with what you want and need now. Only craft-related sessions? Hands-on (“generative”) sessions? Lecture style only? Workshops (with feedback)? Presentations with opportunities for Q-and-A? Marketing/submission/querying skills?
The size fits. I love a mid-sized conference best so I can make personal connections. Small to mid-sized events usually also foster casual, follow-up interactions with speakers and presenters at meals, breaks, and just wandering about the venue—another thing I like. (I do occasionally like a huge conference, but for very different reasons.)
The conference organizers respect every attendee, and don’t play favorites. This is one of those intangibles that, for me, can make or break a conference experience. At Hippocamp for example, I’ve heard attendees describe the organizers in ways you might reserve for your favorite teacher, coach, or BFF: they listen, help, and care. Every person on the grounds is IN THE CLUB. (I’ve attended way too many conferences where some writers are made to feel inadequate and lesser-than because they don’t “have a book,” are not sufficiently well-connected, and find themselves feeling left out in an us-and-them kind of way.) At Hippocamp, the club is everyone in the room. Look for that.
The fees make sense. Who wants to be someplace where you feel the conference is mostly interested in your wallet? I happen to like conference fees that also include meals, coffee, snacks and parking; offer hotel room discounts; and small goodies that make me feel welcome. If I can get that, and it also lines up with reasonable travel costs, I’m in. (Don’t go broke attending conferences.)
Everything’s included, but there’s also an a-la-carte add-on menu. One year at Hippocamp, I paid for agent pitch sessions, other years not. Twice I took a pre-conference workshop. Choices like that can add value to your time away from home, and (for someone like me who likes to cram every hour with something useful), make the conference a more robust writerly experience.
There’s a little bit of fun built right in. Door prizes? A casual open mic? Fun snacks? Optional, casual meal meet-ups for when it seems everyone else has made dining plans? We’re writers, not robots, and only some find it easy to organize themselves socially.
The conference encourages, and facilitates, continued learning beyond the time limit of each program element. I like to leave a session with something that I’ll consult later (besides my own notes) — handouts, recommended links, the speaker’s email address or resource website, maybe something I’ve been urged to generate during the session. Even better if (as is the case with Hippocamp), I can find some speakers’ entire slide presentations on the conference website later.
There’s a balance between too much and just enough. One day? Four days? Five break-out sessions running concurrently? Or 25 to choose from simultaneously? A crammed daily schedule or one with breaks and free (writing?) time built in? Each is likable for different reasons, by different writers. What do you like at a conference?
The organizers want your feedback. Whether it’s a matter of listening sincerely to an in-person complaint or suggestion during the conference, or providing and urging attendees to fill out post-event surveys, I like it when speaking up about what didn’t go quite right, what was stellar, and what might be a good future addition (or deletion), feels welcomed.
I’m sure I’ve left something out. What do you love about, and look for in the conferences you attend?
A slightly altered version of this post ran previously on Lisa Romeo Writes. Reprinted with Lisa’s kind permission.
You can get more information on the next HippoCamp Conference here.
Lisa Romeo is the author Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss(forthcoming from University of Nevada Press, May 2018). She teaches in the Bay Path University MFA program, serves as CNF editor of Compose Journal, and nonfiction craft essays editor for Cleaver Magazine. Her work is listed in Notables in Best American Essays 2016, and has appeared in Brevity, Under the Sun, New York Times, River Teeth’s Beautiful Things, O The Oprah Magazine, and many other places. At HippoCamp 2018, she will be leading a workshop on “Transforming Essays Into a Narrative Memoir Manuscript.”
January 22, 2018 § 5 Comments
By Melissa Fast
I noticed the moseying around the quiet little town of Gambier, Ohio—stop by the Amish basket maker, peek in the bookstore one more time, grab a bite to eat at the Village Inn (Ohhh, the tater tots). Suitcases were already packed and most of the writing workshop participants had boarded shuttles to the airport or loaded up the car and left. The few of us who remained didn’t want to leave. The spell would be broken.
I know I’m not the only one who thought it. Once home, I scrolled through Facebook and Twitter feeds and saw the same kind of sentiment—magical, fantastic, unbelievable. Status updates tried to encase the week-long experience of The Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, perhaps to hang on just a bit longer.
I more than willingly entered this other world. For an entire week, I was spellbound in words. I dis-remembered contrary business partners and less-than-desirable job duties, while I also dreamed about what transition may await in the real world if only I could collect enough courage to leap upon return.
Last summer I imagined going home with containers full of new seedlings that I would nurture and trim and watch grow. Perhaps, one would rise so sturdy, I would climb to the top to reach great riches. The generative workshop was especially important last year. Having nearly finished a project that has haunted me for more years than I care to admit, I was afraid if left alone, I might stop writing.
During the week, my writing sprouts surprised me. I’d expected certain themes to surface that I’d been stamping down for years, but all it took was a supportive community (and a few nights of sleep deprivation) to start thinking on the page about dusty secrets.
When I wasn’t hunched over a composition book or my laptop, I was sitting with my kindred talking about favorite mechanical pencils and the pros and cons of ballpoint pens versus fountain pens. And is writing with an old-school, quill pen charming or pricey (new definition thanks to one of my classmates)?
Conversations with people from around the world or just around the state, newbies or those I’ve idolized, revealed not only that we are all serious about the craft of writing, but that in most cases we’re full-on nut jobs—all worrying if we are good enough, smart enough or have enough cheek to get words on a page in a way that others may read.
As I meandered through the bookstore one last time Saturday morning, I ran into one of the fellows from another class. We were talking about which souvenirs we should take home, and I said something like, “Well, we gotta get back to the real world sometime.”
She smiled and said she had said something like this to her instructor, to which the sage replied, “What if this is the real world?”
I felt the heat of renegade tears coming and excused myself. Standing outside in the sun, I tried to convince myself I was simply tired from one long, exhausting week, and goodbyes were always hard.
Admittedly, it was great to be back in my own bed after a week of sleeping on a dorm mattress that felt like it was stuffed with plastic coat hangers. Nonetheless, my dreams fitful—part of me here and part of me still at Kenyon.
Tears were still with me when I awoke.
I expected re-entry to be tough. This was not my first journey to never-never land. From pencils to syntax to craft, I have always loved the complete immersion into all things writing, and yet, I knew my day-job woes would still be there when I returned.
The only difference is that I think my people at Kenyon helped me see that my two worlds may need to be one, and once upon a time may be now.
Melissa Fast is a nonfiction writer from the Midwest. She spins words during the day as a public relations professional in the nonprofit world. In her free time, she slugs large quantities of French-press coffee as she plays with words in hopes of making sense of the world around her. She holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, and was selected as one of the winners in the 2017 Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards from the South Carolina Writers Association. Her work has also appeared in Minerva’s Rising and Bluestem Magazine.
** Registration is open for the 2018 Kenyon Review Writers Workshop.
January 11, 2018 § 13 Comments
Maybe you’ve got a dream residency. Or you’ve never been to an artist retreat, but it sounds like a great idea. There are residencies around the world at all prices, lengths, and amounts of coddling. Some feel like a new family, eating communal meals and hanging out at the swimming hole. Others are truly retreats, one writer in their own space with no-one to talk to (bliss!). I–and plenty of other writers–have self-made residencies, shacking up in hotels, religious centers, or remote cabins. One of my most productive “residencies” was four days in a small-town AirBnB after attending a writing workshop. Rather than rush back into my day-to-day, I could apply the revisions my teacher suggested, and write from ideas generated in class.
Even if you don’t have a place in mind, prepping for an imagined future residency is useful for your writing career. Updating your resume makes you ready for sudden opportunities. Devising an “artist statement” can help set writing intentions for the months to come. It’s worth it to:
Update Your CV. Make a writing-focused resume, emphasizing aspects of your other jobs that make you a perfect teacher/writer-in-residence/candidate for something cool, and a separate “publication list” where you list everything you have ever written that has gone public. Don’t list personal blog posts–but mention the blog and say what you write about. Save the big version for reference, then pare it to 2-5 pages of the most relevant experience and best publications. (Pro Tip: organize your published work by genre if your best credit is farther down the list by date.) Then joyfully slash it to a paragraph on your overall career development, a shortlist of writing-related jobs, and your 5-10 top publications. Some applications ask for one page, so agonize now instead of at 10PM before a midnight deadline.
Write an Artist Statement. It sounds intimidating, but an Artist Statement is basically, “This is the kind of work I do, because I want to have this effect on that community. I’ve already explored these subjects and topics, and now I’m pushing my boundaries in this medium/style/venue/genre.” Writing this down helps you remember why you’re writing, and what you want to achieve. Here’s a great guide to writing an Artist Statement. Make a 500-word version, one that fits on a page, and one that’s a paragraph. Now you’re ready to copy-paste that information into a grant application, or next year’s holiday card. (I guarantee none of your relatives will suggest you write teen vampire novels after that.)
Write a Cover Letter. Again, agonize now, not at the last minute. Ask a pal who’s gotten into a residency to share their cover letter and Mad-Libs that sucker until it’s your own. When the time comes to apply, fill in the relevant dates and information, and you’re ready to go.
Choose Your Best Pages. Put together a packet of 25 pages and one of 10 pages (the numbers commonly asked for). If you’re a novelist or memoirist, go for a complete scene or chapter. If you’re an essayist, lead with your strongest essay. Have a version with your name in the header of every page, and a version that can be read blind. At ElectricLit, author Sandra Beasley recommends:
Submit the strongest possible work sample for two-thirds of the allotted pages. If your strongest work is completely different from the work you’re setting out to do, make sure that other third represents relevant material.
Dream Up a Plan. What would you do with three weeks of someone else feeding you and no housework or papers to grade? How would you spend your time? What project deserves your focused energy? Sketch out 100-500 words apiece on two or three things you’d be thrilled to have space to work on.
By having these documents prepped, you can spend your valuable application time polishing and tweaking instead of choosing and worrying. You have time to have a friend proofread. To update your publications instead of making a list from scratch. When you find out about a great opportunity the day of the deadline, you have an hour of customization on your hands instead of 8 hours of drafting new material. And more importantly, you have a clear picture of where you are right now as a writer–and where you want to be.
What’s the Deal With Writing Residencies, a great interview with Sandra Beasley at Electric Lit, breaks down the residency process from application to departure.
On the Brevity blog, we discussed Glendaliz Camacho’s terrific post about reading applications as a residency juror, and how to write a great application.
The Res Artis database is a great place to check out residencies by date or location.
If you’re a woman or non-binary writer, feel free to friend me on Facebook and I’ll add you to a group that discusses artist residencies. For people of all genders, check out the Artist Residencies Info Share Facebook group.
November 17, 2017 § 4 Comments
We’ve posted before about how much we enjoy the HippoCamp experience. Well folks, they just posted their call for speakers for the upcoming 2018 event. (BTW: When HippoCamp says “Speakers,” they don’t mean famous people. They mean working, sometimes struggling, writers.) See here:
HippoCamp’s programming is mostly for-attendees, by attendees! With the exception of keynotes and a few panels, our conference is built from the proposals YOU submit!
We’re enthusiastically inviting attendees who also are interested in being part of our speaker line-up to submit a session proposal for HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers (Aug. 24-26) in one of our three traditional tracks, our new addition of a special topics track, or our flash sessions:
- Breakout Sessions in four tracks:
We’re looking for dynamic speakers and engaging, informative, practical 60-minute sessions that will give our attendees actionable takeaways. Breakout session presenters will receive a special discounted attendee rate (about 60% off conference registration).
- CREATE – craft topics related to CNF
- SHARE – sessions related to publishing and promotion – getting your work out there
- LIVE – sessions dedicated to living the writer’s life: how to balance writing with family and/or a job, how to make ends meet, etc.
- SPECIAL TOPICS – sessions devoted to either a niche writing area, or bigger-picture topics related to writers today. (In 2017, these included writing across intersections, recovery memoirs, science of memory, and travel writing.)
- Lightning-Round (Flash!) presentation: HippoCamp will hold a general session featuring five 7-minute presentations (PechaKucha Style) by select attendees. Flash session presenters will receive a special discounted attendee rate (about 50% off conference registration).
SUBMITTING A PROPOSAL
- Submission period is between Sept. 30 and Dec. 15, 2017
- Sessions are reviewed and selected by the conference programming committee.
- We’ll announce the line-up in late December/early January before tickets go on sale in late January/early February.
October 18, 2017 § 4 Comments
Ellen Birkett Morris
I remember my first summer writing conference. It was set in a charming small town in Ohio. Workshops met in rooms that looked like something out of Hogwarts or in small cottages with inviting porches. The workshop leaders were smart, funny, and supportive and, oh, the students. Spending a full week with other writers was transformative. We talked about books and how hard writing was and writers and how hard writing was. After a few days it was as if we were all residents of a small island, a literary oasis.
I’ve kept up this habit of going to summer conferences over the years where I hear great writers read, gain insight into the craft and get that hit of writerly comradery that I crave. But this year finances and other circumstances made it hard for me to get away. This year I’ve spent the year writing—generating new work, revising, looking through my files for stories that were half-finished or abandoned and giving them a second look. I’ve also spent the year reading, not craft books but literature high and low. I’ve read international writers, popular writers, writers of every gender and background. I’ve read carefully and slowly, taking note of how they drew me in (if they did), how they kept me reading, and what made for a satisfying ending. I’ve eschewed the buzz of networking and reading for my peers in favor of getting back in touch with my instincts as a writer and broadening my sense of what stories can do.
It may be purely a coincidence, but I’ve found myself taking a different approach to my work. I am less satisfied with my first efforts. I am taking the time to explore the various paths a story can take and asking myself which of these paths is truest to my characters. I am pushing myself to take my stories further and questioning the story’s ending. I am asking if I have best exploited the dramatic potential of the story. (An insight gifted to me in a conversation with the writer Lee K. Abbott.)
In the quiet of my home office I am taking the information I have learned over years of summer conferences and integrating it into my writing practice. I feel my writing getting better.
I know that I will be drawn back into the warm fold of writing conferences again, but for now I am sitting alone doing my work at the intersection of where knowledge meets practice and this holds an excitement all its own.
Ellen Birkett Morris’ essays have appeared in The Butter, The Fem, The Writing Group Book, The Common, The Girls’ Book of Friendship and South Loop Review. Her fiction, poetry, reviews and interviews have appeared in Antioch Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, South Carolina Review, Notre Dame Review, and The Rumpus. She is the author of Surrender (Finishing Line Press), a poetry chapbook.
September 16, 2017 § 8 Comments
By Rebecca Fish Ewan
P.S. HippoCamp returns to Lancaster in late summer 2018. Details Here.
Rebecca Fish Ewan is the founder of Plankton Press (where small is big enough) and creates Tiny Joys & GRAPH(feeties) zines. She is a poet/cartoonist/professor/mom/writer and teaches in The Design School at Arizona State University. Her publications include work in Brevity, Femme Fotale, Survivor Zine and Hip Mama. She has two creative nonfiction books: A Land Between (JHUP, 2000) and By the Forces of Gravity, a memoir of cartoons and verse about a Berkeley childhood friendship cut short by tragedy, forthcoming from Books by Hippocampus. @rfishewan