I’ve spent the last few days in Chicago at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference, an amazing extravaganza, where over 9,000 writers, publishers, editors, agents, and representatives from Universities all over the United States have gathered to share their ideas.
Imagine—9,000 people converging on two luxury hotels near Grant Park and filling all the surrounding ones. A small city of writers within a city. When I asked a waitress at one of the overflowing-with-patrons hotel bars if she was used to such a mob, she smiled brightly and said, “No. It’s been so dead lately, we’ve been closed except on weekends. This is great! And everyone’s so nice, patient, and kind.” Yep, that’s what a city of writers would be like: A lot of half-drunk kind and smiling people.
Seriously, though, after three days, my brain is full to overflowing with new information, lists of books to read, and ideas to incorporate into my writing and teaching. Sessions covering every genre and aspect of the writing life—22 sessions every hour—were going on all day long and into the evenings. Not to mention all the off-site readings and literary events around town.
I attended author readings, as well as sessions on incorporating the reflective voice into creative nonfiction, ways to invigorate the creative writing workshop experience, conducting research for personal memoir, and crafting the made-up self (the narrative self), to name a few.
Here are a few highlights from my notes:
- We need different narrative voices to reveal the complexity of life. When we write we get to choose who we want to be on the page.
- When writing memoir or personal essay, the “I now” and the “I then” are in contrast; the present shapes the past.
- Another way to think about it: Who was I then? Who am I now? And what have I learned in the meantime?
- When researching for memoir, complete a rough draft of your story first. That way, the research details won’t co-opt the story.
- Story should serve both the mind and the heart—give evidence of looking outward into the world.
- And my favorite: The narrator’s role is to cut through the self-deception of the past self.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Pam Houston:
- “I’m not going to tell a story the way it happened. I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.”
What have you learned about your writing this week?