Saturday, March 10, 2018

Age and the AWP

Once again, the first session I went to yesterday was the best session of the day for me--and keep in mind that I'm just getting a small sample of what's available at this AWP conference.  I'm going to 3-4 sessions a day, which means there are hundreds of sessions each day of the three day conference that I'm not seeing.

Yesterday's best session talked about getting ready for a first book launch.  Here's what I wrote in a Facebook post yesterday:

I knew much of the information already, but still, it was good to hear it again, good to dream of having a first book beyond my chapbooks to publicize. I've been thinking of elevator pitches for my projects and which readers I'm trying to reach. Here's a great quote from Jeffrey Lependorf as we consider possible audiences for our books: "The more narrowly you focus, the more people you will reach." And keep in mind, you don't have to limit yourself to one focus, but you can't say, "My book is for every reader." Far better to say, "My book is for people who enjoyed 'Eat, Pray, Love,' but wished the author had a bit more solid theological grounding." And then, "My book is for people who enjoyed 'Eat, Pray, Love,' but wonder what happens to the spiritual quester who must hold down a 45+ hour a week day job."
This AWP has left me inspired to start working more diligently on the writing trajectory I'd like to have.  I'd like to return to an approach that's been successful for me:  each day, do something, no matter how small, to nudge that trajectory.

At one point, I'd say that blogging should count in those activities, and I still believe that--but I'd like to challenge myself to do more.

It's been interesting travelling from session to session.  On Thursday, I went to a session on Older Women Writers.  Yesterday I went to a session on Work-Work Balance--it was supposed to talk about how our day jobs can feed our writing.  It was led by women who can't be much older than 33, and they might be significantly younger.

What undercut that panel for me was that the three young women quit their day jobs when they got their first books published.  Now 2 of them are balancing a variety of free-lance jobs, including teaching, while one of them is in an MFA program.  And only one of them had the kind of job before the first book that the session description led me to believe we'd be discussing.


I wondered if the age factor was part of my issue.  The younger women on the panel were quite a contrast to the older women writers on their panel.  The younger women are convinced that the world of published writing has a place for them with a clear trajectory.

And why shouldn't they believe that, right now?  After all, they have a first book and lots of promise.  But the older women writers see from a different part of the path.

I am also struck by the fact that one of the younger panelists is hoping for a tenure track job.  I always want to snort, "We're all hoping for that.  But look around you.  There's at least 7,000 people here who are HUNGRY that tenure track job--and there's about 10 tenure track jobs opening a year."

I realize that I've been watching demographics and trends in the higher ed world since the late 90's, so I'm much more aware of the grim outlook.  There are many points at this conference where I feel like a Cassandra shouting into the howling wind.

But still, it's good to be at this conference.  It's good to wander around the Bookfair to be reminded of how many wonderful books still get published.  It's good to hear all the stories of people making a way out of no way.  It's good to be inspired.

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