The sun is well and truly up

I just listened to Art of Manliness’s excellent podcast interviewing futurist Brian David Johnson talking about his new book The Future You. Johnson emphasizes that as a futurist he doesn’t predict the future; rather, he advises people on how they might build the future that they want for themselves.

One tactic that he uses to help people do this is to encourage them to inhabit the future they’re considering. They might do this physically—if part of the future they want is to live in a house with a big yard, they should rent such a house for a weekend or a week, and see how they like it. Less drastic, but still very useful, is simply to do this in your imagination: Take a few minutes and imagine what a typical day might look like if you were living in the future you want to build.

This caught my attention because I used to do this all the time. Especially during the years that I was working at a regular job, I would be constantly imagining a more ideal life, often in very fine detail.

I used to imagine that, once I didn’t have to work at a regular job, I could be location-independent, living someplace interesting for a while, and then moving on to another interesting location. (The desert southwest was one place in my imaginings, as were various cities in Europe—London, Berlin, Edinburgh, etc.)

I used to imagine getting up around dawn (one aspect of my imagined life that has carried through to my actual life), getting a cup of coffee and sipping it slowly on a porch, patio, veranda, or gazebo. I would go on to imagine how I might schedule my day’s writing and exercising, and then how I might spend the evening socializing or engaging in various entertainments.

There were, of course, infinite variations on this, depending on whether I imagined that I was on a Caribbean island, living in a garret on the left bank, or bondocking in an RV in whatever natural area struck my fancy.

I largely quit doing this once I no longer had a regular job. Once I could live exactly the life I wanted, I found it hard to fantasize about. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe any variation between what I was doing and what I was imagining felt like self-criticism.

After listening to the podcast, though, I’m thinking I should get back to it. The future will come in any case, so I might as well get to work creating the future I want—even if it is scarcely different from the future I’ve got. And who knows? Maybe I’ll come up with some key insight that lets me make my future even better than my (already excellent) present.

Here’s a link if you’re interested in the podcast, and here’s a link to the book The Future You.

This is part 1 of a series on what to do if you can’t go to Clarion, which provides my thoughts on how you can capture part of the magic of Clarion—even if you can’t attend. This post is on planning for your Clarion at home.

Pick your six weeks

Unlike the folks attending Clarion, you can choose any six weeks you want. You could go with the same six weeks as Clarion; one advantage of that is that you could read their blogs and maybe borrow some of their energy. But you don’t have to wait if you don’t want to (or if the reason you can’t go to Clarion is a schedule conflict).

Along with picking the six weeks, commit to a significant degree of focus on your writing during those six weeks. You won’t be able to focus like someone at Clarion—you’ll probably have to go to work or to class, you’ll no doubt have obligations at home—but negotiate to have these minimized during the period you’ve picked, and decide in advance that you’ll let some of your minor obligations slip for six weeks.

Pick a book on writing

At my Clarion, much of week one was spent in classroom instruction, and there was further classroom instruction in varying amounts through the later weeks. To substitue for that, pick a book on fiction writing that you can use to learn (or review) the basics of writing fiction.

Because of his historical connection with Clarion, Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction is an obvious choice, but any fiction-writing book that you happen to have or can get from the library would be fine.

Make a study plan

Make a plan for how you’ll work through most of the book you’ve selected over during the first two weeks.

When I went, week one was spent studying plot and character with Steve Barnes (who is quite brilliant about plot in particular—the stuff I learned from him forms a large part of the article I sold to Speculations: Story Structure in Short Stories).

Week two was spent with Kelly Link. She taught us all kinds of stuff, but especially about the importance of telling detail for making description compelling. She also provided a masterclass in point-of-view.

So, to make your Clarion-at-home like my Clarion, read through the chapters of your book on those topics (plot, character, description, POV) during the first two weeks.

Consider joining an on-line critique group

I say “consider,” because your goal would actually not be to get critiques of your work, so it might not be appropriate.

Everyone assumes that getting some thoughtful critiques of your work by people skilled in the field is the most important part of Clarion, but that turns out not to be true. The most important part of Clarion is preparing critiques, and then hearing your classmates’ critiques on the same stories. That’s what teaches you the most—whenever someone else offers a critique that’s different from yours, you learn something.

To get that benefit, you need to find some stories that have been critiqued. An on-line critique group is one possible source. If you can’t find one or don’t want to participate in one, there are other sources. (In fact, there’s a whole field of study devoted to it: literary criticism.)

If you don’t want to join an on-line critique group, you can make do with other kinds of critiques—scholarly papers, book reviews, etc. For speculative fiction in particular, Locus Magazine reviews a lot of published stories, and puts a lot of those reviews on-line. Any source of critiqued stories (with critiques) will serve your purpose.

Once your planning is done, you’re ready to begin. Part 2 of this series will be on writing a story a week.

See the Clarion at home page for links to all the posts in this series.