When I was 38, I went to Clarion San Diego. It was the best writing workshop I’ve ever experienced. I would love for more people to go, but the class size is 18, and the cost can be high, and it’s six weeks of time in the middle of summer. This is why only had one shot to go to Clarion–at 38–because I was immigrating to Canada that summer, and had no job I needed to keep–so I had the six week break. And I worked a full time Visiting Prof position at one university and a part time teaching gig at another in order to make enough money to cross the border with (legally I had to have $9,187 with me when I crossed the border)–and I was a music minister at a church which paid for my home and utilities. I also received a partial scholarship to attend Clarion. I tell you all this because–even though I wanted to go for many years, 2007 was the only year I could have ever pulled it off. I had to wait until I could do it, and then I found a way to do it.
I believe in this workshop, and I believe it helped me, and I believe it can help you. You may not be able to do it this year, or next year, or like me, until you are 38 (or many years from now), but it was a goal of mine to try and get in, to attend.
I went to San Diego’s Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop.
I want to tell you what it meant to me, and I want to tell you what it did for me, and I want to tell you about scholarships.
What happens at Clarion: (from 2007, at least). They offer you professional instruction–all the teachers are published writers. I had Greg Frost, Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, Karen Joy Fowler, Cory Doctorow, Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner as my instructors. They invite a host of guest speakers including other sci-fi/fantasy writers who are friends of the teachers, guest editors, publishers, agents. I met Kim Stanley Robinson, Vernor Vinge, just to name a few. I felt like the people I met were all concerned about my career, and they were all dedicated to helping me make that career work.
The quality of the students is HIGH. Every one of my classmates was a good writer, a thoughtful reader and an astute critic of people’s work. We were asked to read each other’s writing and assist in making it the best it could be. I got the best critiques there.
The campus of UCSD is stunning to stay on for six weeks. The writing and reading are intense. You will write more than you ever had before–and you will want to because these are the people you want to have look at your writing.
While I was there, we got to go to ComiCon in San Diego. And we got to run around on the campus and visit any department we wanted to: World class biologists, physicists, medicine, CalTech, etc. Authors, agents, publishers help to make you the next group of writers who make it. That much care and concern is overwhelming support for any writer. Then imagine these writers–not only your 18 fellow writers, but also your teachers–becoming friends and colleagues for life. Good for sharing frustrations with, and for sharing market leads with.
It’s been 12 years now since I have attended. We were told there’s a 7 year turn around on investment–that things don’t seem to normally happen in less than 7 years, but that was based on the average of students before 2007. In the years since then, of course, there have been many writers come out of Clarion and jump into success and sales. And some writers take longer than others to gestate, and some writers don’t produce much after Clarion. I left Clarion and I moved to Canada and, in three years, I started selling short stories in Fantasy, in Strange Horizons, and other venues, and eventually put together a collection in 2016. This month was my debut in F&SF. It’s taken me a bit longer because: life.
Many former Clarion grads become famous writers like Vonda McIntyre, Octavia Butler, Ted Chiang, Kelly Link, Robert Crais, Carmen Maria Machado, Cory Doctorow, Jeff Vandermeer, Nalo Hopkinson, Greg Frost, Kim Stanley Robinson, among other writers.
I came out at Clarion. I was 38. I came out to Ellen and Delia. They were amazing and good people to come out to. I was deeply religious, but I had made a three year journey of my own, coming to terms with my faith and my queer identity. And I was leaving the US, too. I had to turn down a tenure-track job twice at a Baptist University I loved very much, full of friends who loved me. But I knew that I would lose that job if I accepted it. I knew that one day they would find out I was gay and it would all be gone, and you don’t build your house on lake ice.
As you know, tenure-track jobs aren’t just being offered everywhere… so turning one down twice is career suicide. But accepting it would have also been a fragile happiness.
Anyway, I came out the last two weeks of Clarion and nobody died. And that was a precursor to coming out for me two years later… where all Hell broke loose and I ended up on the front page of the city paper (but that’s another story). Anyway, what I’m trying to say, is that Clarion was a safe space for me. There were three of us queer writers (that we knew of) and it was a good space for us.
So I helped create a scholarship for Queer Writers that me and many many other writers contribute to, so that other Queer writers can go. It’s called the Delany-Kushner-Sherman/ The Future is Queer Scholarship. That link actually takes you to ALL the scholarships there, and you’ll find a lot of them. But if you identify as a queer writer, this is a scholarship just for you.
I hope you’ll think about going, and plan for it. I think it is worth it. The friends I made there have become friends for life. The connections I made there were important to me. And I have a built-in network of friends and colleagues who cheer me on—and having a rah-rah section for YOU is important. And having working writers in the field teach you—wherever you can find them—is good for you.
I didn’t go when I wanted to go—I went when I was finally able to go. And that was the right time for me. I’m 50 now, and I feel like my writing career is just getting started. But it’s never too late to do something for your writing, and for you. Even if you have to plan for many years, like I did, to take a professional workshop like Clarion, or Clarion West or the other workshops out there, or the professional conferences like SFWA/Nebulas or Can-Con (The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature–which is another professional conference)*–those can all help, but all take a bit of planning.
- There is a difference between the conferences that focus on your career and professionalism and those that are more aimed at fans + writers or just fans. The professional conferences are teaching you about contracts, how to stay healthy while writing, meeting with mentors, meeting agents. Those are good to find too.
I hope you will keep working, writing and doing whatever you want to do for your writing. In the end, it is your persistence that is probably worth more than any event or workshop you could take–the constant writing that makes you a better writer. But those guided tweaks, those course corrections, those can come at these workshops and they can save you time. They can help you leap over the issues you may be having.
So that’s my Clarion plug. You don’t have to have it. No one has to have anything. But it may be what you are looking for. It may give you the guidance you need. It may be the right time for you. It may not be–and so you have to do planning for it. But, like any other educational choice, it takes planning, tuition, time. It’s the same as any other summer college class. But these few workshops out there–are focused on helping people who write what you are writing. That’s not just any other college class. That’s one for you.