Decompression day one

I packed up and left the house today, and for all my ironic distance and whatever, it got a little dust in my eye saying the last goodbyes.

It took ~15m after I got home before I made a joke that bombed but I’m sure would have been funny to, say, Erin and Jon.

So… Clarion West. Strange, strange time.

I got to spend a week with my hero Nancy Kress, and went drinking, learned dialogue, and danced the “Graham Joyce” with Graham Joyce. I had one of the most interesting half-hour conversations in my life with Larissa Lai. I talked to Kelly Eskridge , who I totally dig, about what I think was the best story I wrote in my six weeks, and then got to talk about ebooks and Tor with Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and it all wound up with the legendary Samuel Delany (Kress and Delany together make up a whole shelf of my library).

That boggles my mind — I drank Bud Light and ate pizza today with Delany.

Everyone who attended will look back at this Clarion West as the birth of farmpunk science-fiction. Pay attention to farmpunk.

The best part (and I didn’t appreciate this until I was there) was that writing with 17 other similar people in these circumstances meant I got a chance to see how other people worked. Lilah turned in beautiful pieces with lush setting and description I wouldn’t have encountered if I’d kept on reading down my standard hard-SF/cyberpunk/whatever, but I’d read one of her pieces a week and think “I have got to get better at these things”. I’d read Ava’s and study how to get action scenes clearer, and so on, down the list — almost every story I would find something to ponder, where I’d look at the things they did really well and try and pull some lessons from it. And then I’d curse at them for turning in such polished pieces.

And every week, they’d get better.

I found a couple overarching lessons of Clarion West:
– Work harder. Harder. You’re not working hard enough.
– If writing it isn’t horribly stressful, exciting, and makes you worry that your audience is going to crumple it up and throw it back at you, stop. You’re not pushing hard enough.
– Bleed. No, more. Way more.
– Everything in service to the story.
– Apply every lesson you’ve ever learned about writing, from dialogue to plot to characterization, all at once, to everything. Even the contradictory ones. This turns out to be possible.
– To succeed, to even have modest success writing science fiction, it’s not enough to be good, or even great: you must outwork everyone else.
– You’re still not working hard enough.

I understand why people graduate a Clarion program and give up, even the most talented. If the future of your career is ridiculous toil for modest gains, and you don’t have a trust fund or a rich spouse or whatever, it’s hard to make that choice, and harder still if you’ve got family to provide for. And having a day job means you’re screwed because you can’t devote the time to writing… yeah. That’s a whole other rant, though.

Tomorrow I start writing again. Fuck the slump, and much love to my classmates.

1 thought on “Decompression day one

  1. Scraps

    That’s inspiring.

    Delany was my favorite writer as a teenager. I love Delany still, but when I was a teenager, he changed the way I looked at writing, and the way I looked at the world. (And I wanted to be one of his magic kid characters.) I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but when I moved to New York to stay, more than twenty years ago, my first job was being Chip’s personal assistant for a couple months, living in his apartment and taking care of the day-to-day details while he wrote. I think he’s the smartest person I’ve ever known, and damned near the nicest.

    I envy you the Clarion experience. I admit I don’t envy the work, though.

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