To Clarion or Not to Clarion?

Deciding whether an intensive workshop is for you or not


If you've been around the specfic discussion groups for a while, you've probably heard about Clarion, Clarion West and Odyssey, those workshops that lots of struggling young writers go to every year, where they meet lots of cool professional writers who teach them the secret handshake and give them the magic ring so that they too can become Real Writers.

So what is this mystic Clarion? Basically, it's a boot camp for writers, a place where you are forced to work your proverbial butt off for six weeks, and pay for the pleasure of doing so. As a Clarion Wester from a couple years ago, I have to say it was the best thing I ever did for my writing. The writers who attend are expected to produce about a story a week, one for each of the guest instructors, as well as critiquing all of the stories the rest of the group produces. It's not a picnic. It's not an ego trip. You are not going to immediately be picked out of the group as the next Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury. It's much more likely that your ego is going to be trashed, your marriage ruined, and your whole life changed.

Now, if that doesn't scare you (with the exception of those of you who are thinking -- that won't happen to me!) I highly, highly recommend it. Anyone who has the time and the money and the ego healthy enough to withstand no-holds-barred criticism for six weeks running, that is. There is such a thing as the dreaded Clarion burnout, and just about every "class" (as each year of Clarion and Clarion West "graduates" tend to refer to themselves) has a couple of those, folks who stop writing afterwards, at least temporarily.

The operative word here is "healthy." Lack of self-confidence is a problem, and so is over-confidence. If you know you are the next Ursula K. Le Guin waiting to be discovered, do yourself and your future classmates a favor, and wait until your estimate of your own abilities is a little more realistic before you apply. Anyone who is considering any of the intensive workshops should consider how they usually react to criticism first. If you tend to get resentful and pissed off when critique partners tell you what they think is wrong with your story or chapter, you might want to wait a bit. If criticism is hard for you to take and even has you in tears sometimes, if you're sure everyone knows better than you and if you only incorporate all the advice you get your story will surely be perfect, you too might want to wait a bit. If you've been involved in critique groups for a while and you're fairly good at sorting out the crits you can use from the crits that don't apply to your vision of your story, if you have the time and the money and an understanding SO, give it a shot. You'll learn more in six weeks than you ever thought possible.

Also check out Hilary Moon Murphy's Clarion Ex Machina page.


Other pages of mine:

Clarion West 98 | Cutting Edges: Or, A Web of Women | Joe's Heartbeat
in Budapest
| The Aphra Behn Page | ECHO

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Ruth Nestvold, 2001.