Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Some completely unsolicited advice for Clarion 2009

First of all, congratulations to the 18 of you. I am delighted for you all.

I applied to Clarion last year mainly because I was sure I would never get in, and so had nothing to lose. I was just starting to think about taking my writing seriously, and, from my point of view, it was a dream faculty. So if I didn't get in, well, see the previous statements. 

When I got the email announcing my acceptance, I was so excited I burst into tears, and then couldn't sit down for half an hour. You are all, I am sure, much cooler than I am, and can laugh at my silliness.

I had no idea what to expect from the workshop. I had never workshopped a story before. I had barely written before. But here are some of the things that either I was told, and found useful, or that I wish I had known before I went.

You will find your family while you are there. I've talked about this before, but it's no less true. Those 17 other people sitting around the critique table with you? They are all wonderful people. Learn to trust them. All of them want you to be the best writer you can be. And take care of each other. Everyone is going to have a rough day, a hard critique. Be there for each other.

Your six instructors? Are awesome. They are there because they want to help you. Make this easy on them. Read at least one thing by all of them before you go. And read it with an eye to how you can learn from that person's writing. Go with questions to ask them during your conferences. And be ready to hear the sometimes difficult things they will ask you to do. You will be a better writer for it.

Say goodbye to sleep. Seriously. Also, if you are driving, and have room, bring cooking dishes. The food was a punishment from God. Squid patties. I am not even kidding. 

Go with ideas. And be prepared to abandon them. The story I am most proud of was one I never intended to write, and was a homework assignment from Neil Gaiman. 

Skip at least one thing. This was advice from Jim Kelly, who knows from Clarion, being the only person ever to attend twice. You won't want to. There will be exciting visitors, and lectures, and trips to Comic-Con, and if you are really lucky, mad dance parties that go on until 4 am. But take some time for yourself. Play hooky. 

For me, Clarion was a life-changing experience. I learned that I am a writer there. It was exhausting and overwhelming and the best thing I have ever done. I hope it is wonderful for you, too.



  1. You forgot to mention the extraordinarily unbelievable paninis with green spread that was guacamole and not pesto. Oh, and the eggs that looked a bit like nicely folded pieces of yellow felt.

    I would add:
    1. Don't miss the beach.
    2. Think about stories you might want to write, just so you don't feel as if you've suddenly materialized in the middle of a vast ocean.
    3. Jim Kelly is a wise man. Sometimes skipping things is the key to sanity.

  2. I don't know what was worse -- the eggs themselves, or the things that would be hidden in them.

    And yes, definitely think about stories before you go.

  3. Thanks, Kat. I'll take it to heart.

    You've depressed me about the food. I sort of live by my stomach and palate, and I was thinking, "Southern California, long growing season, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, University meal plan, lots of options..." I'm flying, and I don't want to spend more money on food. Rats.

  4. Hi Ken -- nice to meet you! Luckily for you, it looks like a lot of your classmates are driving, there are kitchens in the apartments, and group cooking on the weekends was really fun. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are close by. And maybe there will have been a miracle, and the food will have improved (we write about crazy stuff like that happening all the time.)

    I hope you have an amazing time.

  5. Thanks for the tips and your kindness in posting them.

  6. Hi Shauna,

    Congrats on getting in, and thanks for stopping by.

  7. Hello, nice to stumble across another Clarion Graduate (well Ken Schneyer posted a link).

    There is so much inspiring stuff written by Clarion Graduates it's almost a religious experience in itself. I am collecting them and have posted a link to your Clarion posts on my website. Hope you don't mind :-)

    Happy writing



  8. Hi Liz,

    Congratulations. And of course I don't mind you linking to the posts.

    I hope you have a wonderful time.

  9. I'm very touched that you took the time to write to us. I'm sort of trying not to learn too much about what it's going to be like, but it does reassure me to know how great you found the experience, as I'm in the same boat as you were almost exactly (except that I have written very, very, very many things. Many very bad things, but things nonetheless). I did NOT expect to get in and had a small (mostly pleasant) mental breakdown upon being accepted.

  10. Mishell,

    Hello, and congratulations. In a way, I think you are safe from learning what it is going to be like. I did the opposite (as I had no idea what Clarion was until I decided to apply) and looked like mad for things that would explain what I had gotten myself into. So I had the basic concept down when I went, but the reality of it was so dependent on the people that I was there with, that it was still a surprise. I hope it is wonderful for you.