After six weeks at the Clarion West writer’s workshop, it’s finally time for the eighteen of us to wrap things up and head home. While I’m ready to get back to that which we call “real life,” it’s sad, too. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with a really wonderful group of people this summer. There’s no life like the life of the mind, and being fully engaged in writing for six weeks has really cracked my head open. I’m leaving here with a new perspective on what I write and how I write it, and I’ve met great people along the way.
I’ve also got a batch of stories I’m proud of, along with some intelligent advice on how to make them better. I’d be revising them for submission right now if I weren’t so damned exhausted.
Here’s some of what I learned:
- During Michael Bishop’s week, I got back on the path of beautiful writing. The workshop format for this week was to submit a bunch of short assignments, which would then be read allowed by Mike and given blind critiques. This stirred a bit of competitive spirit in me (which is a confession; they tell you not to do this). It got me ready to run hard and fast, and it gave the people who weren’t used to being critiqued a gentle entry into something that can be pretty rough for some to handle — having one’s work ripped apart.
- During Maureen McHugh’s week, I had a blinding flash of insight about how to structure novel projects, how to think about designing them. It wasn’t anything she taught directly, but Maureen is one of those people who’s so damned smart that stuff she says offhandedly can accidentally rewire your thinking. On my own initiative, I chose this week as a time to get serious about one of my main goals for Clarion — getting better with plot, dramatic tension, and narrative structure. Looking back on the stuff I’ve produced, I think I achieved this goal. No longer will the Spacecrafts workshop have to complain about my plotless narrative experiments! Ha!
- During Nnedi Okoraor’s week, I attained the realization that I am never going back to academia. Yay!
- During Graham Joyce’s week, I worked even more on matters pertaining to plot. Graham is seriously awesome at teaching this stuff. He has a series of great little 30 minute lectures he does on narrative structure that would benefit just about any writer.
- During Ellen Datlow’s week, I learned how to channel Ellen Datlow. So did some of my classmates (and it showed in the following week’s critiquing!). By “channeling Ellen,” I mean developing the ability to question and poke at my own writing during the revision process as if I were an editor trying to make it comprehensible to a reader.
- During Ian McDonald’s week, I stepped back, recovered, and tried to make sense of all I’d learned — and I found that it was good! We were also treated to some of Ian’s thoughts on screen writing and how the rigorous formats of screen- and teleplays can inform narrative structure in fiction.
I’ll probably write more about my Clarion experiences down the road, but the quick summary is:
- I’m really glad I went.
- If you’re someone who’s thinking about going, maybe you should. But you need to do it with an open mind. You need to go full of questions. You need to go with confidence in your own work but with a willingness to experiment and change.
I’m glad that I went at the time that I did, when I was mature enough (finally, ha!) to take some of the knocks and roll with the unexpected, but not yet so set in my ways that I couldn’t use the experience to change and grow. I found the experience really encouraging and absolutely worth taking the time out of my life for.
Now: off to Gen Con!