Applying to Clarion

You already want to apply to Clarion. Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this. So in this post, I'm not going to tell you why it's worth it to apply. If you've been thinking about it, if you want to give it a shot – do so.

Actually, on second thought, a few disclaimers might be in order. You might not want to apply to Clarion if you:

  1. Fundamentally hate other people. (You're going to be around other people all the time. LOTS of other people. It's going to be hard.)
  2. Hate reading other people's stories. (Or, conversely, only like reading your own stories.)
  3. Don't want to hear critique about your work. Note that this is different from finding it difficult to hear critique. For most (all?) writers, receiving critique is difficult. And there will be times when you really don't want to hear feedback, for any number of reasons. But that goes against the spirit of what Clarion is. You're not there to be bathed with lavish compliments (though this will probably happen, at certain times, with certain stories). You're there to find out how you can get better.
  4. Think workshops don't work for you.
  5. Think you already know everything you need to know about your own writing, and/or are not interested in learning any more.

If you answered "yes" to any of the above, you may want to think a little bit more about why you are considering applying. I won't say that the workshop setting works for everyone - it doesn't. In some online places I've heard a "meh" response to the Clarion experience. But for myself, and for most others, Clarion was transformative, enriching, fulfilling - and productive. I wrote seven stories (two new ones for application + five new ones during workshop) that I would not have written otherwise. And it taught me so much about the work of writing and critiquing, and about myself as a writer - but I won't go into that just yet. For this post, I first wanted to share my own answers to things I wondered about when I was applying. All of this is drawn from my own experience as someone who applied to Clarion in 2013. If you have any questions, it would still be best to email the workshop coordinator directly.

I read several posts about Clarion through my application and even after my acceptance, and they really helped me have a better experience, at least as far as my preparations and expectations went. If these posts can do the same for anyone, then I'm glad.

So, here's my first Clarion post: Things I Wondered About During Application.

1. Should I apply to both workshops?

This is something you have to determine for yourself. Sometimes it's a real scrape to pay the application fee, in which case, you may have to decide which workshop you would prefer to attend. At other times you may decide to apply to one or the other based on the instructors, or other factors. For myself, at least, I knew I really wanted to attend a workshop last summer – and if I could have two chances at it, then great, I would take both chances. And it really is two separate chances – your readers, the application instructions, and the setting and program are all different. I decided which workshop I truly wanted to attend (based on the instructors), and luckily it was the one I was accepted into.

You will meet people who will say one or the other workshop is better. (Of course, having gone to Clarion, I will claim that Clarion UCSD is better. Hah.) Your instructors will probably take jabs at this. I had instructors from both workshops. Honestly, either Clarion is AWESOME and if you get accepted into one, you are very lucky (and also quite talented).

2. How should I format my manuscript?

I used standard manuscript formatting (William Shunn has a great example), which is pretty foolproof. It is probably a good idea to get used to this style, because some magazines you will be sending to explicitly state that they want to receive manuscripts in this format

I don't like Courier very much. I never use it when I'm writing. In fact, my first three weeks at workshop, I switched back to using Times New Roman for the manuscripts I distributed in class, until one of our instructors told us to use standard manuscript format. So I went back to it for my final submissions, and it's still what I use when submitting stories today.

3. What story should I submit? Can I submit an old story? Can I submit a published story?

The application instructions tell you to submit “your best piece of writing.” For me, that was crazy difficult to determine. I remember that it was a week or two before the date I wanted to submit, and I felt sick about my stories because I knew they were not “my best pieces.” But I didn't want to submit much older stuff; I wanted a representation of how I was writing now. So I pushed through – I did my revisions as best as I could, I tried to tell stories that I had not heard before, and in the end I felt reasonably proud of my submissions. I still couldn't say they were my “best” stories, but I felt they were solid representations of my writing, my style, and what kind of story I could turn out.

As long as it's a story you can be proud of (as much as anyone can be proud of their own writing), that is a good reflection of who you are as a writer, then submit it. Submit your strongest work at the moment.

 Clarion UCSD asks for two stories, in which case, I also tried to choose stories that were different from each other: one was non-linear fantasy with a Filipino main character, which is much closer to what I typically write; another was thriller sci-fi that focused more on characters and dialogue. For Clarion West, I revised a story that I had previously tried to submit to an anthology, which I got an encouraging rejection for.

You can submit an older story. You can also submit a published story (again, the rules might be different for your year, so please check with your workshop coordinator). Note: I actually emailed the workshop coordinator to ask if I could submit a published story, and she told me "no." However, I know two of my classmates had submitted a published story, though the term "published" differs from person to person.

One thing to note is that some (if not all) of your instructors will read your submission and may comment on it. It might even be used in the first week of class, though that depends on your week 1 instructor. So it may be useful as well to select a story that you would like feedback on, and not one that you are completely satisfied with.

4. When should I submit?

It's recommended, at least for the online submissions (though I should imagine the same goes for paper with regard to postmark dates), that you submit a few days before the given deadline to avoid the website possibly slowing down from a flood of submissions. The application fee is also cheaper if you apply before a certain date – each workshop has their own costs and deadlines listed out on their websites. Additionally, if you submit early, it's possible to get an early decision on your application, ie, before the application deadline even closes.

I knew I didn't want to submit on the application date itself. For one thing, the process was already stressful and agonizing; I had poked my stories thoroughly and didn't want to overwrite them. So I submitted to Clarion West by their early application deadline. I hoped to submit to Clarion UCSD early as well, but I knew I needed more time with those stories, so I applied a week before the deadline instead. I heard back within the following week, to my shock/awe/extreme joy, and that allowed me to begin planning for workshop early on.

5. Do the application supplemental questions affect whether I get in?

I don't think so. You don't have to write them like another piece of sparkling prose, unless you want to. I just answered the questions honestly and straightforwardly. (If you can't tell yet, I'm pretty awkward writing “article” type things in this manner.) I did not write them to show off my writing. I believe the purpose of these questions is to introduce you to the coordinator and the instructors (especially those selecting the class), so that they understand your personality and background more and how would you fit into the class.

Fitting into a class is part of the application, to a certain extent. Clarion is first and foremost about strong writing. But when the workshop coordinator and instructors are reading the works and putting together a class, they are also looking for a range of strengths, weaknesses, styles, and tastes. There might be six strong urban fantasy writers, but having six writers in the same genre would overwhelm a class of eighteen. At least in my year, there was a wide range of writing strengths and preferences, which allowed us all to learn from each other.

6. Should I apply for a scholarship?

Yes. You have nothing to lose! The Clarion Foundation really does its best to provide support for any student who applies for the financial support - it's awesome that way. Study the available scholarships carefully, as some of them are limited to specific applicants. Then answer the scholarship questions honestly and send it along.

7. AHHHH I SUBMITTED MY APPLICATION! WHAT NOW?!?!

You should receive an application confirmation. And now you have to wait for the results. I won't say not to think about it, because that's kind of impossible. But if you're clever enough to come up with a distraction, that might help! You could go and read more posts about Clarion, or troll the message boards for any clues on how long it will take to get a response. At least it's good training for when you are sending out stories (if you aren't already)…you might find that in between hours/days of rapid-refreshing submission pages, you suddenly reach a state of zen where you can ignore the desire to know…even for a little while. From my understanding, the decisions will roll in from the time the application starts up until the end of March, when the class is announced.

Good luck, and if you get in - congratulations, that's wonderful, get ready for an awesome and enriching experience! But if you didn't, remember that there's always next year to try again.

[Revised Dec 2015, because damn that was harsh the first time. Haha.]