Clarion West Write-a-thon 2013: Week 1

As I type this, a group of very talented up-and-coming writers has embarked on their first week of the 30th (!) Clarion West Writers Workshop. Most of you who follow me and read my blog will know what the workshop means to the people that apply, to the people who attend, and to the alumni (like me!). It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to totally devote yourself to the writing life, and one of the most intense six weeks a writer can experience. It’s amazing. Clarion West is fortunate to have some grants from corporate donors like Amazon, but it’s really the writing community and the grass-roots backers that keep it strong year after year. During the six weeks of the actual workshop, the annual Clarion West Write-a-Thon is an opportunity for participants and sponsors to raise some money and awareness for this fantastic program. I’m participating again this year, planning to finish … Continue reading

Five Things I Learned at Clarion West: Part 4

Okay, I’m not a runner, but I have a lot of friends who are. This analogy resonates with me. Writing is a Marathon. The experience at Clarion West can definitely feel like a marathon–there’s a lot of training to get ready for it. You write, you read a lot of short stories and novels, maybe you even practice sleep deprivation techniques to prepare! Then you arrive at the workshop, and try to balance all the writing, reading, critiquing and socializing. The first week is easy. You’re excited to be there (“ohmygodiamatclarionwest!”), you’re meeting all these wonderful folks, some writers you’ve always admired, and you know the words will just flow. The start of a race is always easy. Week Two is suddenly upon you, and the first hill doesn’t look too bad. You start to climb it, sure of reaching the top with the rest of the pack, and you … Continue reading

Five Things I Learned at Clarion West: Part 3

Go to the Parties. Despite the heavy emphasis on honing your writing craft at Clarion West, there are many opportunities to get up from your desk, shake off the dust, and mingle with folks who are into all the same things you are. It’s unlikely you will ever have an experience quite like CW again in your life–rarely will so many writers and other interesting people be within easy conversation distance. I’m not just talking about the organized social activities, either. Five minute trips to the bathroom can easily become three hour discussions on narrative structure, point of view,  or which Doctor is best (scarves, baggy suits, or bow ties?). Clarion West has a weekly routine of book signings, meals, and especially Friday night parties. These are usually held in the homes of local supporters* of the workshop and draw people from all over: former Clarion West and Clarion grads, … Continue reading

Five Things I learned at Clarion West: Part 2

I meant for this second installment to come sooner. The cold germs had other ideas. So writing is not a competition. What’s next? Write outside your comfort zone. You’re not going to Clarion West (or any other workshop) for business as usual. No writing habit you’ve developed is going to survive this experience unscathed. You’ll be writing stories at a breakneck pace without all the usual ideation and warm-up time. There will be enormous pressure to perform (which sometimes means just finishing the damn story). Be prepared to throw out all your old crutches. Embrace the fact that you might be writing at 11pm. 1am. 3am. I arrived at Clarion West with a handful of ideas. I ended up writing on only one of them. I found myself so caught up in the play of new concepts and exchanges of ideas with my fellow classmates that none of my canned … Continue reading

Five Things I Learned at Clarion West: Part 1

Application season for the Clarion West and Clarion writing workshops is in full swing. Prompted by Jim Kelly, many alumni have been talking about the “Five Things” they learned at Clarion. As a 2010 Clarion West grad, I figured it was time to join the conversation. I’m going to break this up into multiple posts because I’d like to discuss each one in a little more depth. A small caveat: Six months out, I feel like the lessons about writing craft are still sinking in. What follows is a mix of general advice and workshop specific stuff. It’s not about them. It’s about you. I’m not talking about Ego or Ambition here. What I really mean is that the workshop is not a competition. Everyone comes to a Clarion workshop from a different place in their creative lives. Some writers are just starting out, while others have made a few … Continue reading