Both were incredible and pivotal experiences–the kind that do indeed allow one to shift directions in life.
VP gave me a sense of community and took me and my work seriously, with writers whose work I respected acknowledging me as a colleague (a junior one, to be sure, but a real one). That was amazing. It also opened up the world of SF&F writers and fans to me, providing me with an open door to the community, and gave me a few lasting friendships. VP gave me a great kick forward, and provided a lot of tools in one intense week.
Clarion West took that kind of experience, broadened and deepened it in scope and mastery. The six weeks at Clarion West allows for such a full and rich immersion, and one gets tossed (very gently tossed, all told, and they strap water-wings on you first… although the water gets choppy right quick) into a life of writing and reading and critiquing and breathing and dreaming story. You get to not only meet, but be feted by Seattle’s (and the greater Pacific Northwest’s) large and highly talented writing community, who are genuinely enthused about what you’re doing. Clarion West took me from a writer who took forever to write a story to one who could, in fact, write one–a good one, even–in less than a week. (Often, because I am King of the Procrastinators (if ever we get around to having the election), in less than a couple-three days.) I learned that I am a writer, and that I have the talent and the skills to do something with it, and by god, I had proof at the end of the six weeks. And more: I had seventeen colleagues and friends, all amazingly gifted, who had just gone through this amazing experience, too.
I worked hard at Viable Paradise, and even harder (and for a lot longer, yeesh) at Clarion West. Both were extraordinary opportunities to take a break from my life as it was and dedicate myself solely to writing. They were a blessing, and they completely changed me.
Workshops aren’t for everyone–for a variety of reasons. The time away, the pressures of the process, the ridiculous quantity of alcohol consumed… but I found them to be a marvelous way to gain perspective, and frankly, the best vacations (from the quotidian) I’ve ever had.
If you think that you might want to apply to Viable Paradise or to apply to Clarion West (or to Clarion or Odyssey), I strongly encourage you to do it. If time away is a problem, well, VP is a week, and the Clarions (and Odyssey) might be six, but they go by really fast. If money is an issue, there are scholarships and aid available. If the workshop technique doesn’t appeal, then that’s a major thing to consider, but if you can give and receive open, constructive, and honest–at times, brutally honest–critique, then you can probably handle it.
Workshops are a lot of work. At VP, you’ll be writing a new story while you’re there and reading and critiquing several of your colleague’s. At the Clarions, you’ll be reading 17 each week, and writing a new one, too. You’ll have classes and lectures, and guest speakers, too. It’s a lot. But it’s amazing.
These workshops are two of the best things I’ve ever done. Not only the experience of them, but the fact that I got stories from them–real stories that I’m proud of, and that one day could very well be published (Look, it’s happened: “Recognizing Gabe: un cuento de hadas” was published in Strange Horizons a couple of weeks ago.).
The instructors are incredible and highly-respected writers and editors at the top of their fields. For this year’s workshop, VP has Elizabeth Bear, Steven Brust, Debra Doyle, Steven Gould, James D. Macdonald, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and Sherwood Smith, all of whom you’ll have as teachers the entire week. Clarion West has Mary Rosenblum, Hiromi Goto, George R.R. Martin, Connie Willis, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, and Chuck Palahniuk, each teaching their respective weeks.
This year, Clarion has Jeffrey Ford, Marjorie Liu, Ted Chiang, Walter Jon Williams, Holly Black, and Cassandra Clare. Odyssey, which has a different structure, has editor Jeanne Cavelos as the primary instructor, Paul Park, Elaine Isaak, Barbara Ashford, Craig Shaw Gardner and top agent Jennifer Jackson as guest lecturers, and Jeanne Kalogridis as the writer-in-residence.
All in all, those are amazing line-ups. So if you’re thinking of doing it… go for it!