Hidden lesson from Clarion West

During Clarion, every week I turned in my story in a sweat, freaked out, anxious, exhausted from the week’s effort, wondering if I’d gone mad, if it was any good, if I’d made any progress at all. I would, seriously, turn in, sit down quietly somewhere for a couple minutes to calm down, and then take a shower, or go for a walk, or fall asleep.

I wrote harder, in an exertion sense, then I’d ever before. And here’s the thing that’s come to me: you don’t stop writing that hard. The things I learned don’t make it easy to crank out a story. They made it harder. In some cases, far harder — putting the visceral and the emotional in my stories is still a huge struggle, for instance, and it puts the fear into me again, and when I don’t pull it off I want to bang my head against a wall.

Looking back, I’m not sure why that’s a surprise. I didn’t expect that in week four, Kelly would say “and surprise, here’s the secret to turning out consistently great short stories — drink a cup of green tea quickly five minutes before you sit down! There it is, everyone! Don’t spread it around, because you’d only be helping your competition.”

And yet it’s hard to grasp: to write stories I liked as much as the ones I produced in those six weeks, I have to work just as hard as I worked then. The difficulty setting on the treadmill only goes up.

Unless you write some flash fiction, right Gary?

1 thought on “Hidden lesson from Clarion West

  1. Mike Underwood

    I hear you, man. Working on my new novel, I’ve been thinking that it’s easier in some ways than the first two I did, but *way* harder in most others. My brain’s all “More surround for your dialogue. Where is this scene taking place? Make it smelly. Condense the dialogue. That phrase is too on-the-nose. I need more characterization for this minor character C.”

    But no pain, no fame, right?

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