Clarion Week 5: being a tale of hysteria and despair.

Week 5. Oh, week 5. Week 5 was the hardest week. More on that in a minute. But first– QUOTES OF HILARITY. Because seriously, we were all comedians in week 5.

(I’m censoring the quotes, cause my little sister reads this blog. I’m sure you can infer what they were originally.)

“I wrote this story to let you know I’m a bigot.”
-Jim B.

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“I really want to commend this story for being sentient.”
-Todd

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“You keep using single quotes when they should be double quotes. It’s all over page 7. Everything single quoted there should be changed to double quotes. I don’t understand why people keep doing this. You keep doing this and I’ll kill you.”
-Kessel

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Josh: Someday 20 years from now you’re going to look back at your Clarion stories and go “what the eff was with all the bees?”
Becky: “No actually, I’ll be the author of my bestselling zombie bee series, reminiscing about at its genesis. ‘Ah yes, I remember it well.'”

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“I refer you to Jasmine’s ‘look of death’.”
-Josh

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Josh: “This is not the first day for this biscuit. It’s a bit-” *bangs it against a plate*
Chris: “That’s not a biscuit, that’s hard tack!”
Jasmine: “It’s supposed to be eaten soaked in bacon grease.”
Someone: “It would probably taste better soaked in bacon grease.”
Josh: “Yes well, what wouldn’t?”
Tim: “Don’t say that. In this crowd, someone will take it as a challenge.”
Josh: “That’s true. With our luck, one of the stories this week will be titled: the thing that does not taste good soaked in bacon grease. If we’re lucky it’ll be written by Jim. If we’re unlucky it’ll be Dennis.”

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Kessel: “That is a effing useless comma. I want to kill you for that comma. You’re going to hell for that comma. You know who does this? Effing journalists!”
Kessel: (Later) “I have to do this every once in a while. To exercise my adrenal gland.”

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“Oh my god the verbs Todd!”
-Wonders.

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“That sentence was just full of words.”
-Annie

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“Story in which you get to the end and nothing happens- you stole my trick.”
-Chris

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“I wrote ‘Effer’ in tetris blocks, so there you go.”
-Bolander.

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Re: Erin’s orgasmic spaceship story:
Jim B.: “I thought the pace quickened really well.”

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“This is the happiest ending to a Laika story I’ve seen, until I write my space opera in which Laika is irradiated, becomes a superhero, and returns to Earth to avenge herself on her Soviet oppressors.”  ~Josh

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“Space whales having sex is three awesome things that go together awesomely.”  ~Kij

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“The official Clarion 2011 mascot: NARWOLVES.” ~Josh

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“Don’t pretend to be a normal person.  That’s…that’s just a bad idea.”  — Kim Stanley Robinson

Weeks five and six are presided over by an anchor team of two authors, and our anchor team was Kij Johnson and John Kessel– both of whom are unremittingly awesome. The title of this blog comes from the talk which Kessel and Kij gave us on their first day. Kij said;

“You’ve all demonstrated that you have a lot of talent to get this far. Do not waste your talent on trivial stories.”

That was the theme of their week, telling us that we had the talent, and we could do better. Strive for MORE. Do BETTER.

John Kessel sees all that you did and did not do, and he's now going to tell you about it.

Kij Johnson. All shall love her and despair.

But yes, the emotional low which was week 5. This was for a couple of reasons. A component was the fact that I was going for Monday crits, which meant that I turned in my sixth short story on Sunday night. Given that my first new story had been turned in for a Friday crit on week 1, I wrote six short stories in four and and half weeks. I’m not saying that to brag– I know a lot of people write faster than I do, and they weren’t long stories anyways– I’m just saying the word part of my brain had moved past IGNITION to smouldering weakly.

Another component was emotional. Despair, to pinpoint the emotion. I’ll be honest, I nearly gave up on writing as a career in week 5.

A lot of that came from the whole “I am tired tired so tired” thing. Five weeks writing, editing and critiquing every day, plus a MAD WEEKEND at comic-con, plus fighting off the Clarion Plague. The tired made it very difficult to fight off the despair at a fundamental quality of my writing. Description can be added, world-building can be researched, prose can be revised. It is very difficult to fix plot. And I had been going into my personal conferences with the authors, and every time they pointed to plotting as my weak point.

A word about personal conferences. All Clarion students get an hour to talk to each author about anything they want. Given that we are at a workshop where we eat, sleep and breathe story, what we want to talk about usually comes down to writing. So I’d go into my personal conference, perch terrified on the edge of a couch, and the instructors would be massively kind to me. Maybe it was the tangible aura of fear I was giving off. But yes, I cannot stress enough how NICE all the instructors were to me.

And in the process of these talks, I would ask what I was doing well and what I could work on, and everyone said “well, your stories aren’t very original, are they?”

So yes. Five weeks of hearing this, and I just believed I wasn’t good enough to fix this. I was too young, too flawed, too unoriginal, too ignorant, too goofy, too poor. I was legitimately making plans to pack up my publication dreams and consider alternate employment, with writing on the sides.

So yes, if you go to Clarion, don’t expect it to be all sunshine and awesome. It is amazing, but it also holds you to a high standard– one I hadn’t been held to in the realms of writing before. It’s hard. It’s really hard.


Other posts about Clarion, including my post about being accepted and other weekly recaps, can be found here.

If you want to apply, you can do that here.

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