Friday, December 4, 2015

Is Clarion West Right For You? Maybe Yes, Maybe No


I just this morning received Clarion West's annual notice that they're accepting applications for next year's workshop. I've taught at Clarion and the now-defunct Clarion South and it was always a great experience. But I have a particular fondness for Clarion West in part because it was the first such workshop I taught and in part because it was Lucius Shepard who convinced me to accept their teaching invitation, "You gotta do it, Michael, he said. "Helping new writers warms the soul. It'll make you feel like Mr. Chips."

This was a startling thing to hear coming out of the mouth of the legendary wild man of science fiction. But of course Lucius was right.

So, assuming you're an unpublished new writer... should you prepare to empty your bank account, quit your job, and apply?

Well, maybe yes, maybe no.

Partisans of the Clarion method (six weeks of story critiques; a different teacher each week; a new story expected to be written every week; I oversimplify) hat it when I suggest it may not be for everybody. But it's true. And it may even be necessary that it's true. A workshop has something like eighteen students. If it worked for everybody, that would be thirty-six newly published writers a year. An editor once estimated that there are only one hundred writers making a living solely by writingf fantasy, SF, and/or horror. That includes both Steven King and the guy who's living in a cardboard box but brings in just enough to keep from starving. All the rest -- many of them big-name people whose work you love -- are in academia or doing editing work or are supported by spouses with good jobs that include medical benefits.

So there's that. But there's also you.  Before you fill out the application, you should ask yourself three questions:

1. How well do I work under pressure?

There's a lot of pressure at Clarion or Clarion West. When they call it "boot camp for writers," they're not exaggerating how it's going to feel by Week Four. Some people discover that they don't want to learn to master the drive and discipline it takes to make a living from writing. They want to write leisurely and at their own pace. And there's nothing wrong with that. Some of your favorite writers are like that.

2. How fast can I write?

I'm not talking about writing well here. The point of writing a story a week is not to come up with something publishable but to make mistakes which the instructor (and other students) can explain to you how to fix. Can you turn out a crappy story every seven days for six weeks? Or, if you're not sure of that, does the prospect of trying to do so excite you? Then you're probably okay.

3. Am I already publishable?

I've known writes who came into a workshop with stories that could be sold to a major market -- and which did sell, substantially unchanged, after they came out. To be fair, they'll all tell you it was a wonderful, formative experience. But I have to wonder if they wouldn't have been better off taking that time and money and hitch-hiking across Siberia or having a mutually destructive love affair in Paris. Not that I'm urging you to do so. I'm just pointing out that the Clarion West or Clarion experience is not mandatory.

Which is all I have to say, really. You're an adult and can be trusted to decide what's best for you. In the meantime, if you're curious, the notice is immediately below. That's a really good lineup of instructors, by the way.

Level up your fiction in 2016

Clarion West is pleased to announce that applications are now open for its 2016 Six-Week Workshop. You can apply today at

Apply by February 10, 2016 and get $20 off the application fee.

All applicants are encouraged to apply for scholarships. For more information about the workshop, the Clarion West experience, and the application process, please see the workshop page and the workshop FAQ. For a taste of the summer workshop experience, download our 2015 Workshop Report.

2016 instructors

Paul Park  Stephen Graham Jones • Elizabeth Bear • N. K. Jemisin • Sheila Williams • Geoff Ryman 
Find out more on our instructors page.


No comments: