The Art of Submission: Committing to the Work
Written by
Emily Lackey
April 2015
Written by
Emily Lackey
April 2015

I did not go to AWP.

I am not one of those people who does not go to AWP and then passive aggressively links to articles and op-eds about how racist/sexist/capitalistic AWP is. I am one of those people who did not go to AWP because she could not afford to go to AWP.

But this isn’t about AWP. This is about what I decided to do instead last weekend, which was to make time for writing—as much time for writing as I would have if I had gone to AWP.

Because I love AWP. I love it even though it is racist and sexist and financially fucked up (more specifically, to charge writers—most of whom do not get paid for their work—two hundred dollars to attend). I love AWP because, when I went last year, I felt so unbelievably invigorated and inspired and, for the first time, like I could really do this thing, this whole writing career thing. This year I watched as everyone’s Twitter feeds filled with pictures and live tweets and panel schedules and culminated in these beautiful outpourings of love and community and felt it again, even from Massachusetts. 

That is what I love about AWP, the way it brings us together, the way it humanizes this business of writing, the way it brings each of us to the business of our work. 

But this is not about AWP. This is about the fact that I decided instead to create a writing retreat for myself in the Berkshires. This is also about how that plan slowly dwindled as the weekend approached, how I hovered my finger over the offerings on every day—first for $150 a night at the Porches, then $80 at the Maple Terrace, and eventually $41 at the Howard Johnson’s—and never once clicked “book a room.” Instead I talked myself down from a two-night stay with morning walks through the woods and afternoons spent at the museums, to one night at a budget hotel. Then I talked myself out of that. I told myself I would just go for a day to save money. I’d leave early and head back late and make the most of it. I’ll do nothing but write. I’ll buy a new book. I’ll drive around to all of the places that feel the most like home and sit and write and watch the traffic go by, watch the river eddy at my feet, watch the trees stand still in spite of the wind.

In the end I did none of these things. I woke up late and did the dishes and didn’t leave until ten o’clock and got to Williamstown in time for the Saturday morning coffee rush at the one coffee shop in town where I realized my computer was dead and that they had no outlets. I gave up after two sips of tea and went to the museum, where I walked around aimlessly, not really looking at anything other than the mountains and the people and the old windows that they’d covered with new panes. I convinced myself to stay long enough for lunch. I went to the corner market and had a sandwich—an amazing sandwich, by the way—and wrote a blog post and drank a lemonade and drove home.

This is why people go to AWP. This is why people apply to writers’ conferences that cost four thousand dollars, why people apply to MFA programs that cost twenty times that, why people pay $300 for a plane ticket and $400 for a hotel room and $200 to gain access to a conference in Minnesota. We writers do this because sometimes we need to do this. Sometimes we need something (a plane ticket, a hotel reservation, a strict deadline) to force us to stay in our seats, to face our computers, to do the damn work. 

This is why I am okay paying submission fees, why I am okay with paying to submit to contests or volunteering to be a reader. This is why I am okay with sitting down every Tuesday night and writing a blog post for She Writes. Because to not commit ourselves to our writing in small ways—to not commit our time or our money or our weekends off from work—is to not commit to it in all of ways that matter.

I hope those of you who made it to AWP this year enjoyed it as much as I have in the past. I hope those of you who did not are happy with your reasons for staying home. And, for those of you going to L.A. for AWP 2016, I hope to see you there. 

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  • Colette Sartor

    This weekend, my son and husband will be away, and I've cleared the whole weekend for work. I even invited a friend over to write with me, to keep me from drifting off into my regular routine and ignoring my writing. Still, I find myself terrified that I'll slack off. So this morning, I reread your post to bolster my resolve. Thank you for this. You reminded me why I carve out the time to write. Why it matters. 

  • Jillian Bullock

    I write each morning from 6-10 a.m. I am fortunate that I am single and my kids are grown so I'm not interrupted. It's my favorite time of the day. However, as a new author I am interested in attending writing retreats to get out and mingle with other writers and to learn skills so I can strengthen my craft. I'm also looking into joining book clubs in my area, Philadelphia, to meet other writers.   

  • Catharine Bramkamp

    I agree - we need to create or buy space to write - I created a whole "cheap retreat" instruction book when I realized that what I needed was a brochure, a space, privacy and pizza and wine to really get my writing on.  It can be done at home, I think it just takes determination!

  • Christine Morton

    what is AWP?

  • You are absolutely correct.

    Despite all good intentions life gets in the way of writing.

    If writing is what you want to do, you have to create a conducive climate and put yourself in a place where nothing else matters.

    Amidst a gathering of like-minded people your hormones are pumped up, and your nerve-endings and all your senses get primed to do your writing. When you return home from such a place, you still keep going. The wheels keep turning and you turn out more pages than you would have otherwise.

    I hope to see you in L.A. in 2016 too.

  • Colette Sartor

    So true. The few times my son and husband have gone away for a boys' weekend, I've told myself that I'm going to write all weekend and then proceeded to walk the dog, do laundry, watch TV, read several books, grade get the drift. They're going away again soon, and this time around I've enlisted a friend from my writers' group to come over and have a mini-writers' retreat. That way, we'll hold each other accountable for the work time and then be able to congratulate ourselves in the evening with dinner and drinks.

  • Mayra Calvani

    You're so right! We NEED this as writers. I count the days each year for our local writer's retreat at Spa (I live in Belgium). It's only 3 days, but boy does it make a difference writing for hours and taking walks and interacting with like souls!

  • Amen! Needed to hear that today. Thanks :)