Thursday, October 29, 2009

An alternate proposal

It's nearly November, which means that it's almost time for NaNoWriMo, that time of year when people attempt to write a 50,000 word novel between 1 and 30 November. Let me be clear from the beginning, and let me say this loudly, so you can all hear me: This post in is no way meant to disparage NaNoWriMo. I'm basically in favor of anything that gets people to exercise their creativity, and to challenge themselves to do something that they would not otherwise consider. NaNoWriMo does both.

And maybe you already have your characters and themes set out, your world built, and your working title in place. You've laid in extra stock of coffee, and downloaded Scrivener. In which case, good luck, and I'll see you on the other side. But if you haven't gotten to that point, I have something else for you to consider.

Apply to Clarion. And take the month of November to write your application stories.

Clarion's application period is opening one month earlier this year, on 1 December. To apply, you need a portfolio containing two short stories, both between 2500-6000 words. It's not quite the endurance test of NaNoWriMo, but writing two complete, polished, short stories in a month is still a challenge. And if you need an endurance test, please believe that the six weeks at Clarion will take care of that for you. Sure, if you sign up for NaNoWriMo, you will get writing advice from brilliant, award-winning authors. Well, take a look at the Clarion faculty. Then think about the fact that not only will they participate in the round-table critique of your work, but you will meet with them for personal conferences.

I can't think of a fun acronym for "I wrote two short stories and applied to a premiere writers' workshop month," and yes, you could certainly do both, in that the application period for Clarion is open until 1 March, 2010. But consider the alternative to writing a novel in November.


  1. Clarion sounds really cool. Alas, I don't think I'll ever be able to go. (Though I do definitely have a couple of stories I could work up for the application.)

    NaNoWriMo, on the other hand, I can definitely do every year. :)

  2. I'm sure it would be marvelous. There is the whole "job" and "family" and "household budget" thing, however, meaning many of us will never be able to even seriously contemplate applying. :(

    There is something I have wondered, though: are short stories (still?) considered, then, an essential stepping stone in becoming a (good) writer? I'm certain that (at least for me) turning out two *polished* stories in a month would be *considerably* more difficult than first-drafting a novel. Thanks....

  3. It is definitely true that Clarion does have characteristics - time, location, cost (although there are scholarships) - that mean the application pool self-selects, and that many people with the talent to get in choose not to apply.

    As to the place of short stories in a writing career, when I was at WorldCon, George R. R. Martin (who knows somewhat about building a career) said that he thought the best thing a beginning writer could do was to write and sell a lot of short stories. And if you are at the beginning of a career, you don't need an agent to place short stories, which is something to consider if you are writing with an eye to publication.

    I know in my own writing, my strengths and weaknesses tend to be fairly similar between the two forms. So working seriously on short fiction can be a valuable way to learn what your own strengths and weakness are, and how to work with those, before the time and energy commitment of a longer project.