I’ve been an AWP member for many years, mostly because I like to go to the annual conference (I try to set a goal for myself each year, e.g., to learn more about social media [that was 2010, I think] or to learn about magazine article pitching  or book reviewing ). It’s definitely a financial indulgence but the three-to-four-day model (and the nice, private hotel room) suit me better than a week- or two-week-long writing conference. I just now registered for the 2017 Conference (at early bird prices!) which takes place in Washington DC from Thursday, February 9 through Saturday, February 11. For me, the conference (straight-up) would cost $240, but as a member (and early bird registrant) I pay $215: $75 for membership, which reduces the conference registration fee to $140. The greater expenses are travel and lodging (I have no problem eating on the cheap) but again, it costs to travel to a writing conference, too, and the tuition and time commitments are generally much greater.
There are other benefits of AWP membership, which you can find here. The only one I’ve taken advantage of to date, besides the discounted conference fee, is reading the Writer’s Chronicle. Last year, however, my good friend and excellent writer Chrissy Kolaya suggested I look into the AWP Writer to Writer Mentorship Program:
AWP’s mentorship program, Writer to Writer, matches emerging writers and published authors for a three-month series of modules on topics such as craft, revision, publishing, and the writing life. Mentors volunteer their time and receive a free one-year AWP membership. Writer to Writer is free of charge to mentees…
although in this link about application information, it does confirm that you have to be an AWP member, which of course makes it a little more expensive than “free.”
What I want everyone to know is that the application window for the Fall 2016 Writer to Writer Mentorship Program is short. It’s open now, and closes August 12. I just made it about a hundred times harder for me to compete–but there you go. Apply. Now. Maybe we can be mentees together.
The most intriguing aspect of the program for me is the nod to people who don’t have an MFA. (And it’s an opportunity, also, for writers of underrepresented groups):
Our program is open to all AWP members, but we particularly encourage applications from writers who have never been associated with an MFA program and those writing from regions, backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives that are typically underrepresented in the literary world.
I understand AWP’s interest in the underrepresented writer but I guess I didn’t expect, and I welcome, their specific encouragement of MFA-less writers like me to apply to this program. While I will not call writing a difficult profession (strawberry picking, furniture moving and dairy farming are difficult) it is often a uniquely solitary undertaking. When I came up for air after completing my last (second) novel ms and my agent asked who was familiar with it, I was sad to admit there was no one but me. Although it’s the way I work best, it’s not an optimal situation. And maybe what I need to learn is that I could work better.
I have consulted with many fine mentors in the past, mostly for manuscript review. Pretty much everything I’ve learned about writing has come from a few remarkably expert souls who have, for reasons I’ll never know and for which I will forever be grateful, taken me under their wing: the magnificent Sandy Benitez, Peter Ho Davies, Ben Percy, Brad Zellar, Patricia Weaver Francisco and if I’m forgetting anyone I can only hope you’ll forgive me. Add to this a few excellent Loft Literary Center writing classes and that’s it, folks: my formal writing education in three lines or less. Count in the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve put to the page and, in the end, you’ve got an education.
I’m not dying for an MFA. But it’s been a tough year for me, lots of writing disappointment or maybe just an accumulated disappointment that, in a decade, I’ve yet to write a novel I can sell. You can be sad or you can try again.
I’m trying again, maybe this time with the help of an AWP mentor.