About Clarion

[This is an article I posted to the misc.writing in a discussion about the Clarion workshop. More information on Clarion can be found on the Clarion Homepage and the Clarion Foundation page. ]

Was Clarion worth it? The asnwer to this question will depend a lot on who you are and how much you already know.

Let me give you one warning. If your response to helpful suggestions is to respond by sticking the story in a drawer because you are unable to deal with revisions, ABSOLUTELY, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, DO NOT GO TO CLARION!

I will mention that going to Clarion was one of the most fun things I've done in my life, and well worth the time and money. I don't regret it at all, and I'd do it again in an instant. It is a chance to associate with 16 (give or take) other people who are all passionately interested in writing, and who tend to judge people based on their writing and not on mundane aspects of their life like whether they have a prestigious job. It's hard to imagine, until you've experienced it, how much difference it makes to spend six weeks exclusively in the company of people who believe that writing is important.

In terms of writing, Clarion will help you if what you need is polish and professionalism, and possibly also if what you need is incentive to write. If you already are at the beginning professional level, you might do as well or better to spend the money to rent a motel room in Nowhere, Iowa for six weeks and sit behind the word processor from nine to five continuously. To learn to write, workshops and stuff are fine in their place, but absolutely nothing works better than actually doing it. But six weeks in Nowhere, Iowa wouldn't be fun.

That said, eight years later, I think that going to Clarion made a noticible change in my writing. I don't think it made me more salable--my writing was salable before I went--but it made me pay more attention to what was not merely adequate, but good .

Of the 17 people in my Clarion Class ten years ago, four have published fifteen or more stories; one has published novels, and four have published 1 to 7 stories, some of them very well regarded as up-and-coming new writers. [I'm counting major markets only; I don't know about small press]. Thus, roughly half are professionally published. As far as I know, only one of the people who are not published yet is writing fiction (and she is very very slow, and occupied with other things in her life). One of the people in my Clarion said that a good thing about going to Clarion is that it's worth it to learn that you're not cut out to be a writer, and go on to do other things. I'm not convinced; I expect that if I asked the people in my year who aren't writing, they would all tell me that they still intend to get back to it "when they have the time."

Another, perhaps more insidious, problem with Clarion (and all short-story workshops) is that they tend to convince people that short story writing is important . If you want to make a living as a writer, of course, a few short stories are good to sharpen your craft, but you won't make a living at it.

> can anyone offer me practical advice for getting through Clarion?

If you haven't got experience dealing with critiques, memorize the following rules:

  1. (The rule of three): About one third of what you hear will be useful information for the story. About one third will be interesting, useful commentary, but not useful for this particular story-- learn from it and apply it to a later story. About one third will be completely wrong, and should be ignored. Talent consists in knowing which advice fits into which category.
  2. You can't please everybody; don't try.
  3. A critique is a criticism of some words on the piece of paper; not criticism of the author.
  4. It's useful to tell people what you like in a story as well as what you don't like; it helps keep the author from removing the good parts in a rewrite.
  5. If everybody says that there's a problem with a particular part of the story, the problem is not necessarily that part of the story; it may very well be somewhere else.
  6. Be careful with rewrites. It is possible to rewrite all the heart and vitality out of a story.
  7. Often it is a better use of your time to write a new story instead of rewriting an old one.

>How does one survive that sort of schedule? What should I bring that's not on the list?

Spare supplies for your printer, lots of paper, a spiral notebook to take notes about your critiques in, an extra pillow, your CD player, insect repellant if you're going to go canoeing, a wide selection of weird cartoons to post anonymously on other people's doors in the middle of the night, your usual basic reference books, all your files of ideas, false-starts, and back issues of Science News, or whatever books with information you might turn into an idea, your guitar [if you play guitar].

>What should I not bring?

Your grand piano (won't fit in the room).

> How do I smuggle my dog into my room?

Trade the dog in for a cat?

Instructors at Clarion '85 were:

If you want to know what it was like the year I attended, try reading Bill Shunn's memoir about a Mormon kid at Clarion 85
If you want to know what it was like the year I taught, try reading Phil Brewer's Clarion 2001 Journal

Copyright 1994 by Geoffrey A. Landis
All Rights Reserved
Not to be copied or reposted without permission