I waited impatiently until 1 December 2003 when Clarion opened for applications. The first I heard of Clarion was the year before and I just assumed I'd never have the time or money. But in 2003-2004, I was full-time, which not only gave me the money, but meant I didn't have to teach in Summer 2004, which meant I had the time. And with Clarion then just 90 minutes away in East Lansing, no way did I want to get closed out.
For me, I had finally begun sending my stories out in the wild and just starting to see some success. But other than a subscription to Locus magazine -- which I highly recommend and where I first heard about Clarion -- I felt I didn't know enough about the business or what I needed to do to make my stories sellable. I hadn't even done a crit -- a critical reading and commenting on someone else's manuscript -- until the week before Clarion when I did a workshop at WisCon.
For thirty years or more, I had made notes and written fragments and stories. My stuff was coming together, but I needed help. I needed to learn things I didn't know I needed to ask about.
And I knew for genre writing and writing to markets, what I DIDN'T need was some college creative writing class. Most look with distain on SF/F/H authors, let alone stories. And most have little experience with competitive submissions to markets or the vagaries of slush piles.
The Basic Details
The Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop at UC San Diego will be held June 22 - August 2, 2014.
Applications for the 2014 workshop will be accepted from December 1st, 2013 to March 1st, 2014.
Established in 1968, the Clarion Writers' Workshop is the oldest workshop of its kind and is widely recognized as a premier proving and training ground for aspiring writers of fantasy and science fiction.
Our 2014 writers in residence:
The application fee, tuition, room and board totals about $5000. Scholarships are available.
One of my two application stories, "Le Grand Bazar", I was repeatedly told was "not a story", but people also liked it. The thing is, I DID write it as a slice-of-life story, or vignette, about living in deep space. But those rarely sell. To make it a story, it needed conflict. In this case, our main character needed to make a choice and it was that process which I amped up and sold it to Space Westerns, where you can still read it. I am very proud of this story, in part because it was the first short story I ever sent out to market, back in June 2002.
My second application story got trunked. It was half of a story about starship repo men, with an easy job and a hard job. What I had was the easy job. What I needed to do was write the hard job. Again, what I had "wasn't a story yet". Someday I'll get around to writing this.
Of the seven stories I wrote during six weeks of Clarion, one needs a big rewrite, which I haven't done, one got great praise but the one obvious market for it folded and I haven't been able to sell it. One sucked. Two I really liked and sent one out to market while I was still at Clarion -- it's gotten great comments, but no sale yet. The other is up to novella length and will soon be a novel. Two have been published. "Giant Cicadas and Other Odd Indignities" sold to Southern Fried Weirdness and resold to Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction for fundraising for the Alabama tornado disaster. And my 800 word challenge story, "Three Drink Minimum" was published in the charity anthology 100 Stories for Haiti.
But this isn't about the couple of stories I wrote then -- it's about my writing now.
Where You Might Come Into This Story
So you write SF/F. Maybe you've sold stories. Maybe you've worshipped stories at a con like ConFusion or belong to a writers crit group, in meatspace or online. Or not. Whatever -- you think you need to take things up a notch. You want to understand the business of writing more. You want to learn what sells and makes a story more compelling.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Clarion is as much about reading as it is writing. While you will probably write more and faster than you ever have, you will definitely read more than you ever have. And work hard on developing that critical eye.
But I Can't Afford The Time / Money
I thought I could never get to Clarion. And yet not only did I make it, I didn't even have to go to extreme measures and quit a job like some in my class. But I don't want to blow smoke here. Six weeks and costs IS a big deal. And while there is scholarship money, some writers will never make it to a Clarion.
And not everyone should.
It's not a trivial matter, the time and money. But if you want it, you'll either find a way or get to one of the other writing workshops which are shorter. Viable Paradise, for example, is just one week.
For my money, the six weeks of writers boot camp at Clarion was the hardest thing I've ever done, even more than writing and defending my doctoral dissertation in Applied Physics.
It's a risk -- not only does it typically take along to recover writingwise from Clarion, some never write again. (A Viable Paradise grad & instructor has a nice piece on Workshop Paralysis.) Some editors like Clarion grads -- they know that these are people who understand the value of crits and editing. Some editors can't stand what they call a Clarion story -- too careful, too formulaic, too boring.
Now I am not trying to scare anyone away from Clarion. I'm just pointing out that you don't do a six week writing workshop and expect nothing to happen. You have to take what you learned and make it your own. Me? I can edit and proofread far better than before. I understand the value of where a story should start and why there can be a Line Of Death where a slush reader can safely give up. And I can write faster.
I went to Clarion to learn to write better short stories -- and what I was told was something I already suspected. I needed to be writing long. Novels, novellas. But I could also write a good story.
And that's the bottom line. What Jeffrey Ford always said: "Just tell me a damn story."