A Sober Person’s Guide to AWP

For anyone who doesn’t know, AWP is the annual gathering of approximately 12,000 writers and editors held at rotating locations around the US. It’s the mother ship. It calls us home each year.

We all know the stereotype that writers are heavy drinkers. While not every writer has spent years and thousands of dollars to prove it, many of us have. A tiny subset of us has quit, been carried off the playing field, and left others to carry on the work in our stead. At AWP, drinking culture threatens to grind up the sober subculture and recycle its members into hip, edgy lit magazines that we would never get into otherwise. AWP is awash in booze. It’s tricky.

Here are some handy tips to get through it without earning another white chip:

  1. Carry two cases of La Croix in your trendy shoulder bag. Aggressively drink them at people.
  2. If you’re feeling pressured to drink, no matter where you are, light up a cigarette on the spot. Get escorted out.
  3. Smugly arrive early for early morning panels.
  4. Pretend that the book fair is a page in your book-in-progress, and each booth is a paragraph. If you have to walk by the book fair bar, imagine it as nothing more than a rectangle of your worst prose. Silently delete it, accept the changes, and keep browsing.
  5. Attend Sober AWP meetings, but bring a map because in Boston those things were so far from the actual conference they were actually in New Hampshire.
  6. To ward off anxiety, literally never stop walking. Jog in place during Page Meets Stage. Claim it as research for a book-length, fragmented, sequential lyric essay about Fitbit-culture and the patriarchy. Sneer at anyone who doesn’t know what that means, and start walking in circles to actualize the metaphor that nobody’s going anywhere no matter how many steps they get.
  7. Wear running shoes and neon spandex all day every day. If someone invites you out to get drinks, politely decline and casually mention the iron man competition you’re training for and something about improving your time. For added clarity, use your fingers to mime little legs in a running motion on the palm of your other hand. Then run away.
  8. Order extra pillows from the hotel concierge and snuggle into a marathon of either My 600-Pound Life or Hoarders. If you can’t find those, fallback position is Law & Order which is always on.
  9. So much coffee. Vats of buckets of lakes of coffee. Shower in coffee. Dab it on your wrists. It’s still your friend and you are its bitch and that is fine.
  10. At the anniversary cocktail party of the top shelf literary magazine that just published your work, employ the following safety plan: (1) Speak to no one because who the hell knows what you might say without a few drinks on board. (2) If someone speaks to you and seems to expect a response, slowly practice your response in your head three times before saying it out loud. If the person wanders away during the wait time, so much the better. (3) If someone tries to put a drink in your hand, dramatically announce that alcohol kills more people than opioids and threaten to call the police. (If this person, in the end, turns out to be that agent you meant to accidentally run into, you can pretend you were drunk. Works every time because who hasn’t been there?)
  11. Phone a friend. (For real. AWP can be a shit show. Hang tough, sober writers. Accept all the changes.)

7 thoughts on “A Sober Person’s Guide to AWP

  1. thanks for this from a recovered “creative” I answer when asked why I don’t drink that ” I am just one beer away from being a total a***hole” I can be one sober too, just not as loud!.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A person’s drinking or non-drinking is nobody else’s business. On a different note, I can’t imagine why anybody would expose themselves to the AWP conference. Euuuuuuuu. I suspect that most MFA programs in writing are useful only for the university/college in which they are offered – think: cheap labor for teaching freshperson comp.


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