AWP 2019: Tips from an Introvert #AWP2019 #AWPTips

Someone once told me I am an introvert with extrovert tendencies. Read: I need alone time, but I am friendly.

AWP has a way of playing a number on people like me. We love meeting other poets, but we get tired and overwhelmed easily. Sometimes we may overhug people in awkward moments (been there, done that.) 

Here is a visual of my energy. This is why AWP can get overwhelming...

As someone who has a love/hate relationship with AWP, let me share a few of my secrets as someone who has been attending on and off since 2004.

1) Know your limits and be honest about them: For me, this is saying, "I can't make any definite plans, but if you find yourself free, text me." 

What this means is, I don't know what I'm going to feel until the moment, so while I love you and want to spend time with you, I may make 1 or 2 definite dates, but mostly, I will need to play the entire conference by ear. Sometimes I just need to rest (read: hide) in my hotel room. Sometimes I actually want to go out. But I don't know until that very exact moment it's happening.

Text me and ask, "Hey, you free? Want to meet me at X" and I will be there or I will be in my hotel room resting. 

2) Decide on a few things to do (or not) but leave room for the magic.

There was one AWP, I went to a panel for the entire day. Sometimes, I'd find myself in a panel I hated and I'd think, "well, I'm stuck here." Note: You are never stuck anywhere. If you aren't sure you want to be somewhere--sit in the back near a door. Have a second option to attend if your first doesn't work out.

But also, don't make plans. !

I know, who would say that? But some of my best moments happened just because I wasn't sitting in a room listening, but I was wandering around the bookfair. All of sudden, there is the poet of my dreams and s/he/they are signing books. Heart stops. My moment. 

Had I been sitting in a panel that was average, I would have missed it. So let synchronicity happen.

3) Speaking of the bookfair-- The bookfair has become SO LARGE, you actually need to spend A LOT of time there... AND it's worth it.

Here's why--while sitting in on a panel, may feel like "wow, I am learning important things," walking around a bookfair actually connects you with people and publishers and poets and presses. You will make connections, you will learn about the presses you want to publish you, and you will meet the editors behind the scenes.

This is SO important as a poet or writer. You will have the opportunity to hold the books they publish, look at the covers, read the words and decide if this is a press you'd want to have publish your work. 

So take the time. Buy books. Support presses and poets. Look at the books and educate yourself in what kind work presses publish. Ask questions. Present your best self. Be professional. Learn about all the presses and what they do.

4)  Trust your instincts.  You will meet poets that you immediate like and you will meet writers who make you feel bad about yourself. Know the difference. There will be times when poets say weird things or hug you one too many times--understand, that is our awkwardness in full-force and it's not meant to be weird, it's just people who aren't used to large events trying to appear "normal"--these people are okay. But know, there are people who don't want the best for you, who make you feel ugly and small--stay away from them. In fact, run away, and know that's their stuff and not yours.

5) JOMO!: It's okay to hang out in your room by yourself or to hang with your roommate or a friend or two. JOMO means "the joy of missing out"--it's okay *not* to be at every reading or event. It's okay to say at 8 pm, "Well, it's my bedtime."

Several times, I've walked away from "elite" parties, from the who's-who's in poetry to order room service in my room with a few good friends. Yes, I missed out meeting Miss Fancypants and I missed out on meeting the man with the good hair who could publish my book. Who cares.

Some of us just don't network. It's okay. You don't have to. You don't have to dance with gross people to get a book contract and you don't have to blow smoke up the ass of someone you don't like. You can actually attend AWP, hang with your friends, buy a few books, learn about a few presses, and be okay.

One of my favorite memories is celebrating a friend's birthday in our hotel room. They comped us champagne, I learned Cobb Salad is my favorite "go-to" food and we ate dessert in 2 queen sized beds. My fedora ended up in the window on the champagne bottle.

So know, if you skip "the party of the year" as my friend used to say in high school--it's okay. You missed nothing. Because you don't have to be everywhere and with everyone. Sometimes it's just better to kick back and "miss out." And sometimes, that's really where the joy is.

6) You may question what you are doing as a poet/writer, feel out of place, feel inadequate, feel as if no one likes you, etc--all of that is normal and most of that is in your head.

AWP is a lot to take in. If you are a sensitive type like me, you may feel like "what am I doing here?" and "I really do not fit in." First--you do. And second, "we are here because we are writers and we love books and creating."

Once when I was at AWP DC, all my Seattle friends were out and on dates, so I found myself completely alone in a DC hotel bar. I was like the sad dog who wandered around but couldn't find her pack so she sat at the bar alone (wait, dogs don't do that...) I felt awkward and alone. This was really before FB or any time where I could do a bizarre post--Hey, I'm alone at the south end of the bar, I'll buy you a drink if you cure my loneliness..." 

Someone I knew saw me and said, "Hey come sit with us." I did and immediately spilled my wine like a big loser, but she laughed and cleaned it up. No one made me leave for being a klutz. I sat and talked about nametags and listened to stories. I felt not alone.

So I guess I include this to say--you may find yourself alone, but you are not alone.

AND if you see someone who is alone, invite them in.

Also (pro-tip here): have a list of phone numbers of friends to call/text who may find themselves in similar positions. Say "text me if you're falling apart" or "text me if you need a friend."

Sometimes, even not being there in person is enough, just getting notes from someone that says, "hey, I love you" or "You've got this" or "Maybe an early bedtime?" ;-) Even if you're alone, but you're connecting with someone--even on your phone, you feel less alone.

And that matters.

So there we are. My tips.

Also, eat well and drink water. Be kind and polite. Do not misdirect your anger/uncomfortableness/fear onto anyone else. Talk to people, but don't take up their whole day. Have meaningful moments. Do AWP the way that is best for you. Take care of yourself and if that means reading your room alone, that is absolutely fine.

And mostly, DO NOT look at others' nametags when you're talking to someone because it feels if you don't want to be there and you're looking for someone better.

So as they Stephen Still says, "love the one you're with."

Happy AWP, friends. Be kind, be supportive, and get your rest! It will all be okay.

P.S. If you are from a state that does not have legal marijuana and you decide to partake, do *not* eat the whole cookie. Only a small piece of any edibles at first. They can be pretty strong... Otherwise, have fun, friends. 

~ Kells 


  1. Wait - you wear a fedora? That seems pretty extroverted to me. :) But speaking as a fellow introvert with extrovert tendencies (or possibly vice versa), this is all excellent advice. The one AWP I attended, I definitely experienced JOMO.


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