An Introductory Primer to the Clarion Workshops

It’s that time of year. Winter has faded, birds are beginning their first tentative tweets, and a new class of Clarion students has been selected. The Clarion Workshops have a reputation for turning out many distinguished writers, like Kij Johnson, Gordon Van Gelder, Octavia Butler, Ted Chiang, Cory Doctorow, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Bruce Sterling, just to name a few. A six-week immersive course on writing genre fiction will influence you, but it’s the people surrounding you, students and teachers, who will change you forever.

Summer seems like a lifetime away and the days will pass with agonizing delay. You’ll be scrambling to work out the details of taking a month and a half away from work or family. Financing the workshop might seem impossible. I know — I was in your shoes in 2010.

By now there’ll be introductions and discussion started on forums, blogs, and twitter, as classmates are getting to know each other. Some of you may shy away from this at first, but really, there’s no need. These people will be like family by the end of your six weeks together and you will mourn the tragedy of your eventual separation. Take advantage of the time you have with them now to build the foundations of your relationships, and your free time during to cultivate them.

Like any family, it can be a bit dysfunctional. You might find that you like some members more than others, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you remember that each and every one of you come from a different background and have unique life experiences. Whether it’s in the common room or the classroom, never assume you know what someone else intended to say. When you’re scrambling to write and revise a story on a tight schedule, sometimes what you mean to say and what the reader perceives are polar opposites. Take that into account when you’re critiquing the story, and never, ever critique the author. That way lies madness.

Clarion is a nerve-wracking event that will make you second-guess yourself. Keep in mind that you were selected for a reason. It was not a fluke! The only person you are there to impress is yourself, and you’re only going to get back from the program as much as you give. Write your heart out. Bleed all over the page, but not literally, please. Those stains are difficult to remove from the carpet and housekeeping will not be pleased.

When your time at Clarion is over, stay in touch with your classmates. My year setup a Google Groups so we could continue to support each other. While you might not see some of them again for years and years, they will always be there for you, as cheerleaders, fellow authors, editors, critiquers and friends, so treat them well.

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