Why I'm Terrified of Clarion West and Workshops In General

The deadline for Clarion West is approaching quickly (3/1 – 2/1 for $100 off).

This year boasts another super fantastic lineup of instructors for the 25th Anniversary workshop. Check it out.: Paul Park, Mary Rosenblum, Cory Doctorow, Connie Willis, Sheree R. Thomas, and Chuck Palahniuk.

[By the way, I couldn’t help but notice that Chuck Palahniuk has grown quite a mane, despite a rapidly receding hairline. Brother looks good. Maybe there is hope for me yet!] ๐Ÿ™‚

For years, I’ve dreamed of attending a workshop like Clarion West. First, there is the chance to meet and work with other writers struggling to make it and serious enough about the process to fork over some serious coin ($3200). Next, there are always fascinating authors and editors on the faculty list (see above). Of course, the idea of actually doing it scares the crap out of me.

Why I’m Terrified of Clarion West and Workshops in General

  1. I’m scared of admitting how much I love speculative fiction – My writing cycle is usually a) fantasy/sci-fi story b) kill self c) serious, existential work d) kill self e) fantasy/sci-fi story… And so on. Kind of crazy, isn’t it?
  2. I’m scared to meet other struggling authors – Even here on the frontier, I occasionally run into a would-be writer. At first, it’s a bit of a thrill but then I realize that we might in fact, well, you know, talk… about writing. My writing? Oh no.
  3. I’m scared to meet published authors (instructors), especially those I admire – See above but scale that by a factor of 10 (to start with). Now, I know this is crazy. Perhaps even crazier than meeting others who are struggling to make it.
  4. I’m scared that people will like my work – Ok, so now we’re really not getting anywhere useful, are we? But really, why on earth would I be scared that someone would like my work? If you ask yourself a question like this, and the answer is “I don’t know” you’re not being honest with yourself. You’re being evasive. Alright, so, I’m afraid that people will like my work because that means I might have a future doing something I enjoy. That means I might have what it takes to make it. This is scary because it is important to me… [I do realize that this makes no sense whatsoever.]
  5. I’m scared that I might be all talk and no action – I spend a lot of time writing about writing an as for doing actual writing (at least of late) the work has been quite sparse. So, what happens when I arrive at Clarion West and nothing happens? I mean, I don’t produce anything (stage fright).
  6. I’m scared to escape from my life for 6 weeks because I might not come back – I don’t mean abandoning my family or anything so silly as that. I just mean that once I really start down the road will I ever come back? Then what happens?
  7. I’m scared that I will have to come back – Well, graduating from a workshop doesn’t mean that you’re anything other than a workshop alumni. It doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly {poof} a published author. It just means that you’ve acquired new skills and honed others under fire. In theory, you are a better writer, but then when you return to your work-a-day world what do you do with your new found knowledge? How do you sleep at night?

Looking over the list, none of it really makes that much sense and yet I’m sure that these are probably the same fears that every writer feels at one point or another (or all at once like me).

Those of you who sort of know me personally are probably scratching your heads right now. I certainly don’t come across as someone who would harbor these sorts of fears. Of course, those of you who know me personally are probably shaking your heads because you know me all too well.

After all, this is the same song and dance I’ve performed for the last 20 years. My shoes are worn through and my blistered feet are cracked and bleeding. Even I can see that.

Perhaps there is nothing left but to cast myself out there and see what happens.

[Via: Boing Boing and Eileen Gunn.]

11 thoughts on “Why I'm Terrified of Clarion West and Workshops In General

  1. Great list — shows good knowledge of your personal monsters. Why not apply to Clarion West and compare monsters with the rest of the class?


  2. i still don’t understand why you are afraid. you’ve written like a ton of stories and two books. if you can swing it, you should do it. what do you have to lose?

  3. A flurry of comments! Glad I just checked my email! ๐Ÿ™‚

    As always, Bruno, you are the voice of my conscience. How do you do it?

    Thanks for the comment, Eileen. (hope that’s really you) Your question is a good one. Something that applies just as well to why I haven’t sent out the stories I’ve written over the last [inaudible mumble] years.

    I suppose that ultimately as long as I play the role of “failed” writer I am safe. I never have to put myself out there for applause or ridicule. I never have to try except for my own pleasure. This is exactly the kind of attitude I wanted to get past when I started this site. In some ways I’ve been successful and in others not so much.

    I really do appreciate that you took the time to comment. I’m sort of feeling like I might just do it, which is about as wishy-washy as it comes. One step at time though.

    terrileepayne, thanks for stopping in again. I appreciate the kind words. Did you ever read that story I sent you via email? “Dating Prometheus”? What did you think?

  4. Most writers think they are failed writers. This is the way it works: you write something, and all the time you’re writing it, it’s not done, right? So it’s not good yet, is it? After you finish it, you re-read it, and you think,”That’s not bad. Could be better. Must fix.” So you re-write, but it’s still not done, so it’s not good yet. (Repeat until good.) After it’s good, you feel great for about five minutes. You feel so good that you start another story. But it’s not done, right? So its not good yet….

    Feeling that your work is not good enough is what inspires you to make it better. The five minutes when you’ve finished the story and you think it’s good is what makes you want to write another good story.

    I’ve repeated this elsewhere, but I’ll say here again, briefly. Many years ago, William Gibson called me on the phone to tell me he’d discovered the secret of writing. “Okay,” I said, “what is the secret of writing?” He said, “You must learn to overcome your natural and appropriate revulsion to your own work.”

    Go forth and do likewise!


  5. “How do you do it?”

    You and I are not all that different, man. I just DO instead of talking.

    Don’t you think it is a little pathetic for a successful 37 year-old man like you to fret like this? You don’t have to answer. You know I’m right. You’ve said so yourself about a bajillion times.

    Sure it’s part of the process, but like Eileen says, “Go forth!”

  6. I agree, Eileen. Even though I’ve become quite frustrated by what I see as my recent lack of progress, I know it is the promise of getting better that keeps me coming back to the table each day. I also know that I am getting better.

    This morning I took out a story that is a possible candidate for my application to Clarion West. I started working on this story in early 2005. I spent six months working through several drafts and then I set it aside. I picked it up again and did some more work on it, but I haven’t read it for about a year.

    As I read the story today, I saw places where I’d made errors and started correcting them. The story got better (as it usually does). I kept going along, cutting and revising, adding a few bits here and there and taking them out again. Reading over the whole lot once more.

    And on it goes.

    In fact, I popped out to check the word count just now and got lost for 15 minutes making edits. I really do love the work.

    Bruno is correct too. It’s ridiculous for me to whine even though everyone else does it too. I guess it’s good to get the stuff out there so that you can get on with what’s important. Of course, one must get on with the doing. Right, Bruno?

    I talked with my wife about the workshop. She’s behind me 100%: what a super woman – how did she get stuck with me? I have a career and all that jazz but I really hate it. Going to the conference isn’t going to change things overnight either, but it would be the first time I’ve ever had such focused time to write without distraction. Right now, I just piece it together when I can and I’m doing it on my own.

  7. Alright, I just finished my editing for the day. Funny.

    I remember struggling with this story, trying to figure out what it was all about. I put in all kinds of things, things that didn’t advance the plot or help develop the characters. I think I’ll send it out to my reading friends and see what they think.

  8. i did read dating prometheus. good premise. too much editing again.

    why do you you do that? it makes the prose so stiff.

    i like it when you tell me a story about a story in email more than i like the stories you sweat over. feels more natural.

  9. p.s. imho, 6 weeks at a writing camp is not what you need. sure it’s great and fun but why not take your wife and kids to vermont for 6 weeks this summer and enjoy yourself. cheaper and easier for everyone. get a house or whatever with a writing barn.

  10. Thanks for feeding my responsibility gene, terrileepayne. But no, I’m going to be totally “selfish” here and do this thing – assuming I’m accepted. Look over this site and see just how much nasty ugliness is embedded in so many of my little posts.

    Or check out this really big post:


    Who am I helping by feeling this way? Not my family that’s for sure. And certainly not myself. It’s totally self-destructive.

    I do appreciate your feedback on the story. I think the problem with my over-editing is pretty natural. It’s one of the reasons I need to go to Clarion West. You can read all the writing books you want, but feedback from peers (published and yet-to-be) is essential.

    Just today I received an email from a friend I really respect. He found plenty of holes in the story I planned to submit with my application to Clarion West. I have another pal who will probably provide a similar critique in person. These two guys have struggled to write too and I value their opinion and insight. I want more of that kind of feedback. I need it in order to get better at what I do.

    Sitting in a barn in Vermont might be relaxing but it isn’t going to get me what I need unless I want to be an amateur for the rest of my life.

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