20 Things I Learned From Clarion

If you've talked to me about writing at all in the last three years, you've probably heard me blab about Clarion. I've written about my experience at the program and mentioned it in some interviews. I've encouraged people to attend - with the caveat that you really don't need it to be a writer. (Many, many, many writers - most of them in fact - will tell you so.) For me, however, it worked wonders.

In week six of workshop, I wrote out 20 things I had learned from Clarion so far. They still ring true, three years later:

  1. Don't be the one who beats yourself down. A lot of the world is going to do that for you already. If you can't champion your own work - if you think it's crappy and no one needs to look at it - how can you expect others to find merit in it? Granted, this is hard to do - but it's so critical.

  2. Everyone engaged in creative work has intense periods of self-doubt. That's normal. And I do mean everyone; you just have to manage it.

  3. You should be unsatisfied with your stuff. So that you're improving! Also: mind the taste gap.

  4. The only way to get better is by doing.

  5. Challenge yourself.

  6. From Andy: you have to outgrow your stories.

  7. From Nalo: ground it in the physical.

  8. From Bob: people don't care about stories, they care about characters. Everything is character.

  9. From Cory: get past the 60% - your subconscious knows what it's doing. Don't start thinking about thinking about writing in the middle, because then it's hard to switch.

  10. "I write for myself." - Holly Black

  11. "What is the heart of this piece?" - Kodiak's constant refrain

  12. "Go big or go vague." - Angus

  13. "Cut weak words that don't really add anything." - Marie, and pretty much all the instructors

  14. "Choose the markets you send work to." - Every single teacher

  15. Keep sending your story out, until it finds an audience. (If you still think it's good.)

  16. "Protect your writing time; defend it at all costs." - Nalo
    Also: "Don't make it a decision where you get to choose. It HAS to be your time to write." - Stan Robinson

  17. From Kim Stanley Robinson: This is a long-term campaign. Pace yourself for the long haul.

  18. "What is most important to YOU in the story?" - Kelly

  19. "Deepen descriptions. The point of the language is not to be beautiful." - Kelly

  20. "Challenge yourself to write what you have not read before. Take it seriously." - Karen

This is really just a handful of the amazing insights I got from Clarion. (I kept telling myself I'd go pull out more gems from all my notebooks, but still haven't had the chance. Maybe someday!) 

Here's a bonus one I got from the last Q&A we had with our anchor team: "You are all here because you love to write. And you are all in fact here because you love to do it. Check in with yourself. Take your emotional temperature often."

It hasn't been easy, sticking with writing. But no one told me it would be. I'm grateful Clarion helped me commit to it and find my community. To support the program, this year I'm once again participating in the Clarion Write-a-Thon, which raises money for the Clarion Foundation so that students who need financial assistance can attend. I was a recipient of two scholarships myself, and I'll be forever grateful that others' generosity allowed me to spend six weeks doing the thing I love most, changing my life profoundly. 

If you'd like to support me in my goal of 24 butt-in-chair hours this year, you can do so here. You can view the full list of participating writers, including my team the Rocketship Spatulas, here. I'll be posting updates about what I've been working on through the summer - thank you so much for the support!