As I posted earlier, Clarion was a tremendous experience for me. I worked with six strong faculty and hung out with writers like Kim Stanley Robinson and David Brin. Most importantly, I got to know seventeen other writers that I respect and plan to stay in touch with.
It’s been a week since I got home from San Diego and I’m still feeling somewhat unmoored. After six weeks devoted to nothing but writing, returning to the daily slog has been disconcerting and a bit sad.
Blogs by other Clarion 2011 students can be found in my Links. Below are just a couple of brief thoughts on my Clarion experience.
* The instructors were less important than the students.
This was the most important thing I discovered about Clarion. The guest writers set the tone for each week and offered valuable insights into writing, but it was the quality of my classmates that really mattered. I was fortunate– Clarion 2011 assembled a group that was talented, smart, and genuinely caring. The stories written during the workshop were amazingly strong and the critiques were sharp and insightful. While the visiting writers were very helpful, the core of the workshop was definitely the eighteen of us and the work we did together.
* The pace can be relentless if you don’t manage your time well.
San Diego is beautiful and UCSD is a sprawling, lively campus. Add in Comicon, trips to the beach, weekly faculty readings, and reading past students’ work at the Clarion archives (the workshop stories of Ted Chiang, Kelly Link, and Nalo Hopkinson blew me away), and time for critiquing and writing can rapidly diminish.
My approach to the workshop may be anomalous. I did not attend any of the readings or go to Comicon or hang out in the common room with the other students (this last choice is my only regret about Clarion). I knew that I was a slow writer and as the recipient of the Octavia Butler Scholarship, I also felt a responsibility to make my time at Clarion as productive as possible. Despite knowing how I worked and the limits of my energy, I still struggled to keep up with the schedule. I did manage to turn in a story each week until Week 6, when my brain simply cramped up. By the end of the workshop, I was mentally drained and very sleep deprived.
The upside to the demanding pace was that it forced me to plow through a draft instead of constantly going back and tinkering. It also taught me that I could crank out pages even when my “muse” was feeling grumpy.
Clarion was an intense and at times frustrating experience. Six weeks is a long time– the food got monotonous, the beds were uncomfortable, and the campus is hilly and prowled by skunks. Several of my classmates made life changing decisions while attending and others had no jobs to return to when the workshop was over. Despite all this, our class was remarkably cohesive. We treated each other with respect and consideration because we genuinely liked each other. This more than any other factor, I think, is what made Clarion such a remarkable experience for me.