03/08/2013 12:22 pm ET Updated May 08, 2013

The AWP Conference in Boston: Where Writers Swim Like Fish


My first day at the AWP Conference in Boston, I stood for several minutes at the bottom of the escalator, paralyzed by the sight of so many writers swarming upstream like fish to uncertain habitats. I could almost see the thought bubbles accompanying them:

"Is the physical book dead?"

"Will I meet the editor of that literary magazine who's had my short story for fifteen months?"

"Should I just go ahead and self publish?"

"Will that cute guy with the five o'clock shadow -- no, the other guy, no, not him, the OTHER one -- notice me if I stand ahead of him in the registration line?"

"What do you mean, I paid all that money to stay at the Sheraton and I still have to pay for WiFi and coffee? Even Motel 6 gives you free WiFi and coffee!"

And so forth.

Over 11,000 writers, editors, and publishers turned out this year for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs' Conference, making it one of the biggest literary hootenannies for anyone with a passion for putting words on the page. There are over 500 sessions devoted to topics of interest to both writers and teachers of writing, ranging from esoteric discussions of character development to the thorny business of publishing your first novel. There's also a massive book fair with so many small publishers and literary magazines represented that someone dropping in from Pluto might think all we do here on Planet Earth is read.

I don't know whether to be terrified or exhilarated to be here. Maybe both.

I am terrified, because there are so many writers, and so many hungry looking faces. YOUNG faces. How can I possibly compete with so much talent? Why would anyone notice my writing, when there are so many other things to read?

And I am exhilarated, because I have rarely been in a place where so many people are gathered to talk about the craft of writing. Here, everyone acts as if words still matter, despite the fact that our information and entertainment are delivered instantly and in a myriad of different ways.

By writing, we are making our voices heard -- as well as the voices of so many people, old and young, educated or not, from the future or past or present. Writing isn't just an art form. It really is a craft, one that can be learned, taught, and shared. It is a business, yes, but first and foremast, writing is about putting your heart, mind, and soul out there for anyone to see.

So maybe I can get on that escalator, feeling wonderful to be, just for a short time, swimming in a school of fish just like me.