It was this time last year when I had the greatest experience of my science fiction writing life. I’m talking Clarion’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, held in San Diego (really La Jolla) at UCSD (2007).
I was in the middle of a move out of the country—a summer I had little money to spare–but I threw a quarter of what I had into this workshop, in hopes of learning new technique, honing my writing skills and re-invigorating my desire to write science fiction and fantasy. I had no idea what I was in for…
It was 6 weeks of writing–completely devoted to writing and learning from 18 other writers like myself, who had come to pick up skills too, and from 6 writing teachers, all published writers in their fields: Greg Frost, Jeff and Ann Vandermeer (the editor of Weird Tales), Karen Joy Fowler, Cory Doctorow, Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman. We were visited by Stan Robinson, Vernor Vinge, and got to go to the ComiCon held in San Diego.
The core part of it –despite all the superheroes of writing around us–was the group of us, living and writing together in the dorms at UCSD. It was six weeks of hard work, but I look back and I think it was the best work I have ever had—creating. It was electric. Everyone was creating fantastic stories. I’m serious. People were on a level I have never been around–and they were pumping out stories, and what was great about it and allowed me to keep my head up above water, is that everyone else had rough stories too—we were at the same level, AND we were interested in each others ideas (not at all the competitive nature of grad school–colleagues actually cared about your success–I saw no jealousy.). And we learned from each other.
We also bonded as a family. We drank blueberry beer, and badly colored Vitamin water, we visited a haunted tree at night, we walked to the beach, we had squirt gun wars, drew mystic chalk circles on the sidewalk, we lived and breathed science fiction and fantasy writing, we lived a dream for six weeks, really….
I don’t know if I will ever have an experience like that in my life again. But it was beautiful, and taught me a great deal. Some of it I’m still sifting through. Some of it I absorbed and don’t know I gained it when I did…other stuff I can quote to you.
If you ever have a chance to go to Clarion (and I favor San Diego, though Clarion West is probably good, and other workshops have good things too, I’m sure) then scrimp, save, get your significant other’s permission to be encamped along these hills of light, where the joy of writing science fiction and fantasy is shared by 18 other people, and your teachers, where you are encouraged to write. Where others will look at your stuff with honesty and say, “This part here is miracle. This part here is crapola.” You will not regret it–though you have sold all you have, buy Clarion….
I can tell you truthfully, that I still talk to Clarion folks (not as much as I want) and still visit when I can, though once you get to the outer boonies of the Yukon it is hard. And call. And everyone is still writing and publishing.
Often I go back to that time and think now, i wish i had six weeks and 18 people breathing down my neck! Try it out for yourself.