Writing Conference Confessions

img_9632Confession: I had no interest in AWP, the country’s biggest annual writing conference that happened to be in my city this year. I went to only one amazing off-site reading, nearly fainting from the crowd. I chatted with a few nice strangers there that I was literally rubbing elbows with. I’m sure there are lots of nice and interesting strangers to meet at AWP but I still had no interest in it.

Confession: That’s a lie. If I had no interest I wouldn’t be writing this. The fact that I mostly ignored AWP despite it being literally all around me, brought up certain feelings. I felt envious of all the photos I saw this week of writers hugging other writers. I felt envious of writers who gave several readings, racing around the city from place to place. I felt envious of everyone who said “the best part was connecting with old friends.” If any old friends of mine came to AWP, I didn’t know about it. Of course, to have these kinds of old friends takes work and I fully admit that I haven’t done that work.

Confession: I want to support, be inspired, and moved by other writers but I prefer to do that by reading their books or essays or manuscripts. Throughout the year, I constantly intend to go to readings then rarely follow through. Going to readings is really hit or miss for me because I have a hard time focusing. Also, because I almost always go by myself so they make me feel lonely. It’s not a great combo and while I wish this were different, I once again admit that I haven’t done much work to change this.

Confession: I have written almost nothing since finishing my book at the beginning of 2018. No publishers want to publish it so I decided last month to do it myself. I’m mostly relieved by this because I’m 97% uninterested in spending my time doing promotion. I was 100% interested in writing this book and revising it. It’s a really good book. But the effort it takes to get 200 people to read my words instead of 20 is of very little interest to me. Still, self-publishing comes with a stigma, one that is more keenly felt at events like AWP.

Confession: I’d really love it if you read my book when it’s ready. It’s called I Want More. It’s a hybrid of poetry, memoir and image. There, that’s my whole pitch.

Confession: I’m still a writer. I’m still a good writer. This is not about low self esteem, though sometimes people think it is. They think I don’t believe enough in my writing. I don’t think it’s about believing. It’s about ambition and I have none, or at least my ambition doesn’t often look the way it’s “supposed to.” Some people will see this as a flaw. I say, fuck that.

I know all of this is okay. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I know most of you reading this will be kind and sympathetic and supportive because community takes many shapes, not just the shape of a massive, chaotic writing conference. AWP is a few days a year and will not be back in Portland for a long, long time. And so, on we go…


Tracy Burkholder is a writer living in Portland, OR. Her debut book, I Want More is a lyric hybrid of memoir, poetry and image published by Summerbear Press. Available here.

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