Clarion West Writer’s Workshop — Applications Due March 1st, 2012

Applications for the 2012 Clarion West Writer’s Workshop are due March 1st. This workshop is geared towards  science fiction and fantasy writers seeking training at a professional level. (Although I should note that I also found what I learned there to be applicable to my other life as a graduate student interested in the writing process and book production and history.) I attended this workshop in the summer of 2008 and found it to be absolutely life-changing. It helped me to think about my writing in new ways. It also made me a better reader of writing — published writing and writing in its draft stages.

This year’s workshop has a really impressive roster of instructors (and is bound to attract an impressive, diverse roster of students.) They are:

Mary Rosenblum

Hiromi Goto

George R.R. Martin

Connie Willis

Kelly Link and Gavin Grant

Chuck Palahniuk

Mary, Connie, and Chuck were all instructors at the 2008 workshop. I thought all of them were great. In case you are not familiar with the format of the workshop, each instructor teaches one week of the six-week workshop (this year, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant will teach together.) During each week, students turn in an original short story written AT the workshop (trunk stories strongly discouraged) for critique by the seventeen other writers and critiques the seventeen other stories in turn.

Critique workshops follow the “Clarion Method” with each student receiving verbal comments from their peers in a round-table format and then hearing what the instructor has to say before responding or asking questions themselves. My year, instead of writing a story the first week our instructor, Paul Park, had us complete a series of writing exercises, including an emotional scene study and a detailed story outline. These exercises became the basis for many of the stories that showed up in later weeks.

I feel that I am still processing a lot of the writing advice I got at the workshop. Some writers start publishing right out of the gate — Clarion West is the last step on the way to allowing them to establish thriving professional careers. I think my slower pace has to do with my age when I attended — I was too young to have done “enough” writing. What constitutes “enough” is arbitrary, but for me it seems that even in the past year, I’ve come closer to producing work that succeeds structurally, stylistically, and emotionally. Although these changes were not immediate, I definitely attribute them to the workshop experience.

I cannot say enough good things about this workshop, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. In my opinion, it’s only worth it if you can really devote yourself to the six weeks and if you’re in a place where you’re ready for this kind of critique. Or could adjust to critique quickly with a minimum of defensiveness. Again, that will vary for everyone. For the most part, my impulse is to just say “GO! Do it! It’s Clarion! Apply already!” so a disclaimer to temper that seems only fair.

If you think Clarion West might be for you, I encourage you to (quickly) check out information about the workshop experience. There are several substantial blog series* following workshop experiences at Clarion West, as well as the companion workshops Clarion and Clarion South. The latter two workshops follow the same basic structure as Clarion West, but I do not know enough about them to say what is different and I’m not sure if they share a deadline with Clarion West. I do know many people apply to more than one. I applied to Clarion and Clarion West, and I chose West before I had heard from Clarion because of the instructor lineup and the recommendations of a few other students I knew. I don’t encourage you to make a habit of applying last minute, but I didn’t find out about the workshop until a few days before the deadline and I was able to write a successful application (I did already have a polished writing sample completed.)

Good luck!

*My 2008 classmate, Douglas Lucas, has a series of blogs on the experience here. Take what he says about space stations with a grain of salt. Or not.

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