Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers WorkshopEvery year there’s a new Clarion class. Every year I’m a bit jealous of the new batch of students getting to study with the new batch of teachers.

There’s a little overlap this year—one of the anchor teachers, Kelly Link, was my instructor for week two. The others I haven’t studied with, but I’ve met some and read their work and would jump at the chance to study with them.

But you can’t go back to Clarion. (And, to be honest, you wouldn’t want to. Going to Clarion is a transformative experience, but that sort of transformation only happens once.)

I’ve written a good bit about my own experience at Clarion, besides keeping a daily journal while I was there. A year or two ago, I also wrote a series of posts on doing Clarion at home, if for one reason or another you couldn’t go.

But really, if you have a choice, it’d be much more fun to do Clarion at Clarion, if you possibly can. Head over to the Clarion site to apply.

Ten years ago today was the first day of class at the 2001 Clarion. Steve Barnes talked about plot. (The stuff he talked about that day, together with some some ideas I got a few weeks later from Geoff Landis and some earlier instruction from Bruce Holland Rogers at his Flatiron Fiction Workshop, served as the basis for the article on story structure that I sold later that year to Speculations.)

Those six weeks at Clarion were great—only a handful of times in my life have I had that much fun. Clarion also had a huge impact on my life—everything I’ve done since then has been colored by the things I learned there.

I wouldn’t want to do Clarion again—it only works that way one time—but I would like to do another intensive workshop. Probably one aimed at novels, if I can get a novel written.

That’s for the future, though. Right now I need to write one more short story for my local writers group, then start revising some of the stories that they’ve already critiqued.

During week two at Clarion, I wrote a story that played to my strengths—one where the story was strengthened by being told from the viewpoint of a character who was almost affectless, so the story didn’t suffer from my limitations at showing a character’s feelings as he suffers.

As I observed at the time, this was probably a mistake:

The thing is, Clarion isn’t a time to stay within your limitations. It is a time to push beyond them. So, I’m a bit disappointed in myself. But only a bit: I didn’t do it on purpose; I was just trying to tell the best story I could. Now that I’ve thought about it, I’ll take more risks with the next one.

And I did. In fact, I’ve taken that particular risk with pretty much every story I’ve written since then. And with practice, I have gotten better at that aspect of storytelling and character development. In fact, I’ve used every story I’ve written since then to try to stretch my abilities, not just in that area, but in every other area where I know I have weaknesses.

That was probably a mistake too.

If you want to sell your stories, they need to be the best stories you can write. But for the past ten years, I have refrained from telling stories in a way that let me keep within my limitations, because I wanted to grow as a writer.

It was great practice. I’ve learned a lot. I’m a stronger fiction writer now. But I’m not quite sure how I fell into the notion that I needed to try to push beyond my limitations with every story I wrote.

Within the context of a workshop, sure. It would be a waste of the opportunity to workshop a story that I’d crafted such that it required only the tools I’d already mastered. But for other stories—for stories that I’m writing to sell—perhaps it wasn’t necessary to make such an effort to showcase my weaknesses.

Why it took me ten years to figure this out, I’m not sure. But I have finally, I hope, learned better. I’ll still try to stretch and grow as a writer. But at least some of the stories I write—for a little while, perhaps many of them—will be crafted to showcase my strengths.

If you’re a writer of speculative fiction, you’ve probably already heard of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop—and probably already spent some time wishing you could go. At least, that was my experience. I first heard of the workshop in the late 1970s; I didn’t manage to attend until 2001.

For me, Clarion was a purely positive experience. I learned a lot about writing, wrote several stories (one of which got published in a good market), met a bunch of great writers (both teachers and fellow students), and generally had a blast nearly every day for six weeks.

If you want to know what Clarion was like for me, you’re in luck—I kept a journal of my time at Clarion. (Other possibly useful stuff I wrote about Clarion include my article How I Learned at Clarion, which talks about my surprise at discovering that the activities that I thought would be more or less useful turned out to be just about backwards, and my page on Clarion Costs, which talks about my Clarion expenses.)

But what’s more important is what Clarion will be like for you, which is something that you can’t read about—it’s just something that you’ll be able to write about, if you go.

Here’s the official announcement.

If the idea appeals to you, there’s a button at the bottom of the Clarion page that you can click to start your own application.