Why You Should Go to a Writer’s Conference & Never Really Go to the Conference

It’s a tradition now: you and your friends from your MFA program (most now alumni) spend five days stumbling around a new city, trying to remember what road the hotel is on, running up bar tabs at the local dives, and attending a panel or two at the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, the largest writer’s conference. It’s the thing you look forward to the most every year, for the last five years running.

Despite all of your eagerness, you still have a love/hate relationship with AWP. You’ve realized by your third attendance that your biggest disappointment in the conference is actually going to the conference:  you get so hyped for the offsite events, the panels that you’ve meticulously chosen, the #AWP tweets you’ve retweeted, the sweet publishing contacts you’re going to make. You quickly realize, after day one, that you only half-listened to the three panels you dragged yourself to, only found 20 minutes  to actually make it to the book fair, and your phone has long ago died. If you’re being honest with yourself, all  you want is to sit in a nice corner and not talk to anyone and chug water.

But alas, you can’t. You have a dinner thing to get to. And then its drinks downtown, then an uber to the diner at 2am to sober up because you are determined to make it to a 9am panel the next day (you, of course, don’t).

By your fifth conference, you’ve come to see AWP for what it really is. You can’t make every event. Most off-sites are way too far away, anyway. Some panels will be boring. Some readings will be boring. Writers you admire are less intriguing than you thought.

Of course, you’re still going to be awe-struck when you see Cheryl Strayed looking fabulous at the hotel bar, or when a publisher tells you that not only did they read your latest book review,  but they loved it and gave you another ARC to review. But these moments are the exception and not to be expected as the norm. AWP isn’t a magic fairy that grants writing careers. Well, maybe it is. It’s probably happened to other people, sure,  but in five years, that’s never happened to you, and you’ve got to stop expecting it to be.

So, then why travel across the country, put yourself through the exhaustion (and twice, terrible sickness) just for a conference that is barely a meh?

Because no matter what, after every AWP, you go back home feeling more confident, capable, and sure in yourself, of who you are, and who you want to be. Being around only other writers for five days is a fantastic reminder that you’re not alone. Those hours freelancing in isolation? Hundreds of other writers across the country are doing the exact same thing, and oh look, they have faces. How nice. You also have five jobs just to pay the bills and never write fiction anymore? Join the club! The solidarity is comforting.

Also, there is nothing like drinking with your writerly friends in a new city, flirting with cute hipster publishers from Brooklyn, having a hangover for five days straight and sleeping barely six hours like you’re in your early twenties, and thriving off of it. Knowing you can ignore your work email and any real life responsibilities for five days (well, sort of).

AWP is definitely not a vacation in any sense of the word. It’s something else, something better. Maybe it’s a good thing that there’s no word to describe the glorious pilgrimage known as AWP. To define it would take away its essence. The user assigns meaning. Your AWP is different than anyone else’s AWP, every single time, year after year. You never know what sort of mischief you’ll get yourself into, or who the one person will be that you talk to that fills you with a drive and inspiration to keep writing like a motherfucker.

And that’s why you go

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How to Survive Buying Your First Car at Twenty-Six, story by Rachel Kolman (LEARNING TO DRIVE Poetry and Prose Series)

Very cool to have this piece in Silver Burch Press’ Learning to Drive series.

Silver Birch Press

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How to Survive Buying Your First Car at Twenty-Six
by Rachel Kolman

First, admit that no one taught you how to drive. It’s not anyone’s fault but your own: you went to college, won scholarships, studied abroad, but you never learned to drive. Come to terms with the fact that this is something you cannot learn on your own, as independent as you like to think you are.

Graduate with your masters and land a salary-paying job. Tell yourself you like biking to work. Pathetically stay at home on Saturday nights because your adult friends live by the good bars. You do not live by the good bars. Slowly grow sad over this aspect of adult life that you can’t control. It’s not like you can go out tomorrow and pick up a car the way you pick up a new pair of heels. You need help.

Pay a driving…

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New Story Publication: “Madder Red” in Bodega Magazine

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Please to share my newest story publication, “Madder Red,” which appears in Issue 37 of Bodega Magazine. Bodega is an NYC-based online literary magazine, published once a month. I’m pleased to be a part of this magazine, honored by the company my story is keeping, and excited to see that this story, one of my personal favorites, finally has a home. “Madder Red” deals with issues of finding a sense of home, purpose, and belonging as we navigate the beginnings of adulthood. Click the link below to check it out!

“Madder Red” in Bodega Magazine

These things are your becoming

For the past five days, I’ve been at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, at this little writing retreat thing my alma mater does every year in New Smyrna Beach. Five days is a long time to be away from your routine, to have a lot of experiences and insights, boiled down into one list:

  1. when you’re free from thinking about getting to work on time or what to wear or make for dinner, you can have a lot of strange thoughts enter your mind. Sometimes not always pleasant thoughts, but that’s OK, maybe it’s OK to think about why they’re not pleasant and why you’re bothered by them, but knowing overall that you’re more than that; we’re more than what’s in our head.
  2.  I went jogging the first day and looked around at the sky and trees and was upset that I wasn’t as inspired and curious in my day-to-day life. Why not? Why not let life be more wonder and creativity and less stress and movement?
  3. Turning 30 next year is all right. A lot of cool people are 30. It’ll be a new decade full of new experiences, and it’ll be even better than my 20s, because I’m more sure in myself now and less afraid of things. I even went to the bar by myself one of the nights, and read a book and listened to the live music, and it was perfectly nice. Even two years ago I wouldn’t have done that.
    1. (Plus, maybe you were a little afraid of 30 because most everyone you hang out with is on average 5 years younger than you, maybe you need your age group more, your particular brand of problems. Maybe you’re done working a job where you punch in on a clock. Maybe you should be thinking of the career you want to be in before the next decade starts. It’s time.)
  4. And I sort of missed Orlando, too. Missed my apartment and going grocery shopping and playing cards with my friends and talking at the coffee shop. Enjoy that more.
  5. While I do still want my MFA in nonfiction, I realized it’s not time yet. I need more experience first, more work in the genre and writing samples. Don’t collect degrees just to have them. Put your whole heart into your next project. You’ll know when it’s time.
  6. Plus, I still love fiction (I mean, I wrote 10,000 words in five days). It’s still in me, even when I think it’s not. I can write critical analysis and book reviews and personal essay and STILL write fiction. I still do love creating stories. I just need to carve out more time for it, create a space for it in my life.
  7. I listened to a lot of NWA and Childish Gambino and Jay Z and I loved every second of it. I read a lot of articles and books and went bike riding and watched youtube videos and took photos. Do all these things, they’re great, they’re your becoming. Be fascinated by it all.

Buzzed Books #32: On the Run with Mary

The Drunken Odyssey

Buzzed Books #32 by Rachel Kolman

On the Run with Mary by Jonathan Barrow

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The manuscript forOn The Run with Mary was found the day after author died in a car crash. It was 1970, and Barrow was 22. Barrow’s brother had found the manuscript in a desk drawer, with a fresh page still in the typewriter.

To add more bizarro, Barrow was to be married two weeks later, turning his “save the dates” for a wedding into those for a funeral. A tragic story for Barrow, who tells a tale even more tragic, disturbing, and grotesque in his novel On The Run With Mary.

Barrow’s 115-page book follows a young narrator as he escapes from boarding school and navigates the unforgiving streets of London. While waiting to board a train, the narrator meets Mary, an old, talkative, alcoholic dachshund. The frantically told narrative then becomes about survival…

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the faux happiness of doing nothing at all

A few weekends ago, I tried a little experiment. Instead of filling my weekend with an agenda, I decided I was going to stay home and do nothing for two days.

I put off the errands I had to run, the syllabi that needed revising, the book reviews I had lined up. Just wake up, and hang out in my apartment. My weekend consisted of lounging by the pool, reading, playing video games, watching gaming streams, cooking meals, drinking a bit, and watching all 8 episodes of Wet Hot American Summer.

Getting to bed Sunday night was hard. I was restless, given my immobility for most of the weekend. I hadn’t really done anything that earned exhaustion or effort. My body didn’t want to wind down; it had been winding down all weekend already. Finally, around 2am, I fell asleep, actually looking forward to the workday. After 48 hours of not doing anything productive, I was itching to get back to things. I wasn’t contributing to society or the betterment of myself in any way. And I didn’t like it.

What I realized from my little social experiment is that clearing your agenda and doing absolutely nothing at all isn’t really as great as it sounds. We often glorify this notion because it sounds so tempting to run from your obligations. Who wouldn’t want to throw their work in the air and say “screw this, I’m done?”

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But really, let’s think about how necessary that is. You know that three day juicing detox craze? It’s proven bullshit, as the kidney detoxes your body daily. Yep, those cleanses aren’t really doing anything past your daily kidney function. Taking breaks is like that: daily bouts of “nothingness” work better instead of locking yourself away for days. You detox when you try a new recipe for dinner and find something on Netflix. You detox when you take a bath and put on some Sufjan Stevens and give yourself a pedicure. Daily “nothing” detoxes are more effective in the long-run than simply dropping everything and staying immobile for a weekend. Get up early, get your work done, put in some effort, and then enjoy an earned break.

I realize that this might only apply to other extroverted types like myself.  If you’ve been there, done that, and you actually love a long weekend alone from society, good for you for knowing that about yourself. But if you glorify and idealize and always “wish” that you could have a weekend alone when you can do nothing at all, I’m here to tell you it’s unnecessary. Make time for a daily detox instead. Then get back to work and being your fabulous self.