The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia
21 January 2010
Five months after Clarion
Before I went to the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop this past summer, I was aware of the "Clarion Curse": Some people go to Clarion and can't write again for months or years afterward. Some never write fiction again.
In my Clarion class of 18 people, some have been amazingly productive, cranking out story after story and selling to good markets. I'm not among that group. I spent the fall promoting Like Mayflies in a Stream and only began to try to write again in December.
I say "try" because I didn't succeed. I started stories, then couldn't get the words from my head onto the page—or, more distressingly, was clueless about where to take the story. I kept pressing on, started a new story in January, and finally, after a week and a half of slow slogging, completed a 3000-word story yesterday.
What accounts for the Clarion Curse? I suspect some people stop writing because at Clarion they find out they don't want to be a writer as much as they thought they did. For me, my difficulties writing resulted from a combination of losing the ability to suppress my inner editor and fatigue from the intensive workshop that I still haven't shaken. (For those new to my blog, I have systemic lupus erythematosus, which saps my energy.)
Yet, Clarion was well worth it. Once I finished my new story, I thought it among the best I've ever written. I believe I'll batter my inner editor back into submission and the writing speed I had before Clarion. I also gained the courage to take chances and to tackle painful, personal topics. My new story, for example, takes place in New Orleans after the federal levees broke after Hurricane Katrina.
Over the past five months, I've critiqued many stories and book chapters by people in my New Orleans critique group, people in my SF/F critique group in Orange County, and fellow Clarionites. Clarion has drastically improved my critiquing ability. I have a much better idea now whether a story is working (as opposed to whether I enjoyed it) and how it could work better.
Last but not least, my Clarion classmates continue to encourage each other and help each other with their stories. The writing of all of us should benefit.
I recommend that anyone who wants to take a giant step forward in their writing ability next summer consider applying to Clarion, held in La Jolla, California, or its sister workshop, Clarion West, held in Seattle. The application deadlines are coming soon—March 1—so act now if you're interested.