Post-Clarion Thoughts

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.

Workshop Critique Session (photo by Jasmine Stairs)

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.

The tree outside my apartment provided shade and a place to smoke.

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.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Post-Clarion Thoughts

  1. You’re right, Dennis; we had immense luck as to who was in our class. I never encountered the slightest agro or backstabbing. By some sheer stroke of luck, everyone I encountered seemed to believe that life was about being pleasant and supportive to those around you and, of course, writing like a demon.

    Great days. May there be more of them.

  2. You read our Clarion stories? I’ve never had the courage to re-read the ones I wrote *shudder* — except, of course, the ones I published :). But I can totally see Kelly’s and Ted’s blowing you away. Kelly and I went to the same Clarion, and reading her work was an entirely humbling and delightful experience. Congrats on completing your own Clarion! Rest up a bit now. You’ve been through the wringer.

  3. Jim – It was an amazing group, wasn’t it? Probably the most talented and respectful bunch I’ve worked with. Good taste in booze, too.

    Nalo – Archive Box 20! A lot of us 2011ers wanted to check out the early work of authors we had read, very cool to have both you and Kelly Link in the same year. The weirdest thing was seeing Ted Chiang’s drafts done on typewriter– made me glad for the invention of computers and laser printers.

  4. Dennis–Glad I’m not the only one feeling unmoored. I’ve been distracting myself with a few exciting things, but I think the sheer weight of projects I want to tackle is daunting to me right now. Nevertheless, I want to see more writing from you. Maybe just pick one story to deal with at a time?

    Totally agree on how lucky we were with our class. Talent and support in amazing amounts. I look forward to hearing the stories of people going back to read our stories in box thirty-one (I think) in the future…

  5. Jazz

    I also agree, we had a fabulous line-up of writers and critical readers in the group. And I’m very glad you were part of it, Dennis. 😀

  6. “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). ”

    Because of serious health issues, I limited my socializing so that I could write and get more sleep. I ended Clarion not knowing some of my classmates very well.

    But I’ve been able to make up for it in the two years since. I critique pretty much every story offered up by my classmates for comments. I get together with classmates when I can and help them out when I can. I hang out with them at cons. I comment on their Facebook posts. I’ve gotten to know most of them much better.

    I still regret that I missed so many of the social activities. But I wanted to get the most from Clarion, and I did what I had to do. As you did.

    You too can continue strengthening your bonds with your classmates, and one day no one will remember that you didn’t hang out in the common room, only that you’ve been a strong presence in your Clarion “family” since your summer together.

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