Some Inkpunks went to Clarion West…

Collaborative post by Andy and John

The Clarion West workshop is held for six weeks every summer in Seattle, Washington. Applications are currently open until March 1st. Today on the Inkpunks, Andrew Penn Romine and John Nakamura Remy, who met at the 2010 workshop, relay their own experiences at Clarion West.

While Clarion West is similar to its sibling workshop in San Diego (which will be covered in a post by Clarion graduate and fellow Inkpunk Adam Israel soon), the workshops have their differences. At Clarion West, the workshop is held in the same huge house that you stay in. There is a chef on the premises. Stepping out of your room for a late night snack can turn into a 45-minute discussion on Doctor Who’s companions, Ted Chiang worship and existential angst. The University District is only a few blocks away and has dozens of writerly escapes, including indie cafes with free wifi, ice cream shops and cocktail bars for stress relief and group excursions, and the cathedral-like Suzallo library on the UW campus for the day your story is due.

Seattle is a mecca for writers and friends of the speculative fiction community. Not only will you have an opportunity to meet many famous SF writers at the Locus Awards and the weekly parties and readings, but some drop by the Clarion West house as volunteers, or for informative chats and games of “Thing.”  It’s an incredibly supportive community, and every week you’ll have the opportunity to speak with award-winning authors and editors who aren’t on the instructor roster.

Finally, there are the real treasures of Clarion West: the workshop administrators, Leslie Howle and Neile Graham. They are the brains and heart and soul of the workshop. They’ve been anchoring Clarion West for a long time, and they know how to help you through the long nights of the soul, the insecurities, and the occasional interpersonal friction. Leslie and Neile have developed the uncanny ability to predict your collective rising and falling of spirits, and step in at the right times to provide support. They are on call 24/7 for advice or if you need a shoulder to cry on. They’re dedicated to making the workshop the best it can be for you, even long after the workshop is over.

One word of warning for any workshop, including Clarion West: the instructors you’re most excited about meeting may not be the ones that influence you the most profoundly. Remain open to the unexpected.

One more piece of advice: if you’re going to apply for one of the Clarion workshops, you should apply for both. There are only 18 slots per workshop, and many many more applicants than there are openings. You will likely have as powerful an experience at one as at the other. Why not maximize your chances?

What was our individual experience like?


I can honestly say attending the 2010 Clarion West workshop changed my life. This is not hyperbole. A workshop like Clarion West is a transformative experience. It’s forty days in the wilderness, or forty nights on a mountain top. You won’t be the same person when you come back down. In six weeks, I learned more about myself and my capabilities as a writer than I’d learned in the previous eight or so years playing around on my own.

But is it right for you?

I’ve blogged extensively about my Clarion West experience before, and if you’re thinking about applying, you may find it helpful. A quick search on the internet will find a lot of other blog entries about the workshop, too. Read them and see if you think the workshop is right for you.

It may not be. It’s expensive, intense, and not without risk. Not every aspiring writer needs a workshop experience to grow, especially not one lasting six weeks! But for me, Clarion West was a catalyst for one of the most productive, creative periods of my life (so far!). I thrived in the workshop environment. The friends I made there and in the writing community since have reaffirmed my decision to be a writer. I was at a point with my writing where I sorely needed that confidence boost. Unexpected connections formed from those relationships, too — I’m an Booze Nerd and an Inkpunk now. I’m co-authoring this post with a dear friend whom I met at Clarion West.

So you’re interested in workshops. Should you apply to Clarion West? The short answer is yes. The more complicated answer is yes, if you think you’re ready, and even if you think you’re not. Yes, if time and money are on your side. Yes, because there are scholarships available. 🙂


A couple of weeks after my post-workshop life-reentry, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek “Official” Breakdown of hours for a typical week at our workshop. The excerpt below may provide you a secret glimpse of a week in the life of a Clarion West attendee.

 10 hrs: Reading 60-80000 words of colleagues’ writing.
.25 hrs: Hyperventilating due to impostor syndrome after reading colleagues’ finely crafted, immediately publishable stories when your own is the verbal equivalent of a hanging turd or vomit spurt.
 15 hrs: Re-reading 60-80000 words & prepping critiques.
 15 hrs: In-class critiques.
 .5 hrs: OMFG I’m in a one-on-one with [famous author or editor].
.07 hrs: Half-hearted attempt to exercise:  .07 hrs
  3 hrs: Eating Korean food at cheap eatery near the University.
  7 hrs: Going to get ice cream.
5.5 hrs: Chatting in hallway, on way to bathroom.
1.5 hrs: Mighty-O Vegan Donut Run.
.75 hrs:Bathroom.
 :O hrs: Sleep:  HHAHAHHAHAHAHHA! ha.
2.5 hrs: Bouldering with Kij Johnson.
1.5 hrs: Napping at Greg Bear’s feet while he tells us how we probably won’t get a lakeside house like his.
  3 hrs: Mustering the courage to talk to Nicola Griffith.
 .1 hrs: Speaking with Nicola Griffith.
 11 hrs: Stalking Staring at Ted Chiang at parties/readings/workshop visits.
 11 hrs: Making scary doll heads for Ellen Datlow.
 24 hrs: Writing (on day story is due).
  2 hrs: Writing (on other days).
 92 hrs: Thinking about writing (on other days).
  9 hrs: Writing magnetic poetry on house fridge.
.01 hrs: Time elapsed between turning story in and beginning critiques for next day.

And Good Luck!

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  1. Nick Tramdack
    13/01/2012 at 11:24 am Permalink

    A few words of advice for students next year, based on my experience last summer in 2011:

    -Secure the Friday due date if you can. This will mean a tough first week, but after that you can enjoy your weekend trips & adventures without worrying about  running into a story deadline on Monday or Tuesday.

    -That said, try to work on your stories every day. Devote time to /cutting/ material as well as adding it, or switching the order of scenes.

    -Critique your fellow students’ work before working on your own. At midnight, it’s easier to motivate yourself to keep writing your own story than to pick up and analyze somebody else’s 50-page monster.

    -If you’re stumped for story ideas, think about some bizarre “that would never work” concept, then invent a way it could. (Then push it to the background and let the story be about characters!)

    -Muster the guts to invent new SF ideas, rather than just rehashing and remixing hoary old ones (vampires, werewolves, UFOs, AI gaining sentience, memory transplants, dark versions of fairy tales, etc.)

  2. Lynette Aspey
    13/01/2012 at 2:42 pm Permalink

    10 years down the line and your descriptions bring it all back, along with the laughs. The CW admin and team are all wonderful. The friendships that are forged get stronger. The class has diversified in all sorts of directions. All shine, some are stellar, (YSWilce, for example). Without a doubt Clarion is a life-changing experience. I hope your post gets read by someone who was thinking ‘maybe’ and now thinks “Yes”. All the best, Lyn Aspey. CW’02


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