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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"All the right friends, in all the right places, so yeah, we’re going down."

It’s entirely possible that you’ve seen this already on Bahnree’s blog, since we share most of our readership. ^_^ But I have to share it anyhow.

Is it not PRETTY? And doesn’t the lead singer look like Wash? Admit it, he totally does. *takes a moment to heart Wash*
And I need a masked ball with electric organ in my book. NOW. I DEMAND masked ball. With spies and pick pockets and glowing instrumentation, and possibly assassination/assignation. I am not sure how this all works out, but it’s finally unstuck the damned block in my plot.
I think I’ve decided moral ambiguity is lame, and the bad guys are bad. Probably. Or maybe this will show that my good guys are the bad guys. IS COMPLICATED. Anyhow, there are masks and reveals and begging, so it’s all better now.
If you’ve read the above ranting, I salute you. You clearly need some serious therapy. Watch the pretty video again, you’ll feel better. There are dancers!

This looks hard, so I’ll be lazy instead.

I had one of those shining moments of clarity about plot this weekend. It wasn’t about how to actually FIX my plot, oh no. That would have been useful. Instead, it was realizing how deeply flawed my writing technique is. ^_^

Those of you who’ve been masochistic enough to read an entire story of mine know that I have a tendency to get distracted from my central storyline. To the point that some readers have had to ask me what the central storyline actually was… I try, I really do! I just decide that i have to Explain why people do things, and then I get distracted by freedom fighters. Or libraries. Or bagpipes. Or tattoos. Or hair colour. A hundred thousand words or so later, I return triumphantly from my pointless excursions, and wrap up the plot in ten thousand words written in a day because I’m so exiling tired of the book.
The voices (Burnout, Muse and Inner Editor) in my head pointed this out to me on the weekend.
And I went hehehehe. Oops. But that’s like real life, right?
They stared at me and said Noooo, that’s not the point. Real life is boring and aggravating. This is A Bad Thing you are doing. Fix it. Make your shiny distracting storylines count, or cut them out.
I coughed and refused to make eye contact. But that sounds hard!
They made comments which I can’t repeat, but they amounted to “Suck it up, Buttercup.”
So that was my weekend, story-wise. And say, has anyone else noticed how HARD it is to lead up to a conclusion for eighty or one hundred twenty thousand words, making everything count? I fear writing now… But in other news, I finally managed to figure out how to rob the bank. ^_^ Silly small town, leaving their deputy codes lying around…

"Soon I’ll be out of my mind, and you’ll be out of ideas…"

So I was going to dance class today, thinking about plastic. What, you mean you don’t do that? Surely you jest! You lie! *cough* But here’s the thing. I’m doing a steampunk world in Karma Police, and there’s a floating town in the ocean. (Which makes me happy inside, btw.) And because I’m just like that, I need to know why it’s there, and how it’s there. My first thought was, of course, plastic floats! Then I went, uh, wait just one second here, plastic? In steampunk? That doesn’t really sound right, not for the amounts I’d need to float a town...

I will spare the the rest of the stream-of-conciousness wherein I thought about rivets and Kipling, Star Trek, gears, the American Civil War, greasing methods and child labour and submarines and Kipling again and mining and ice caps and fishing and- I’m telling you about it. Anyhow, wow, I love my little town, and I can almost smell it, I know how it works so well. While thinking about this, I realized that the piece of tech that I’m starting out Karma Police with, does not jive with the rest of the story. (If you’re read it, you know what I mean when I say “Harbour Tree.” If you haven’t read it, I’m sorry you missed the benefits of my insanity.) It was semi-organic, and everything else I’m writing is mechanically minded.
This made me sad, because I loved that harbour tree. HOWEVER, before I became too broken-hearted, I realized it actually belongs in my Medusa/Fire/Fantasy/SF/Pick One/War/Children/blindness/SO MUCH SHINY story that keeps hovering behind my head dropping maddening hints. So I squeed over that revelation and nearly walked into the barre at dance. I had everything plot-wise figured out and it was wonderful!
This lasted about ten minutes, till we were talking about costumes. This was when I realized that my plot order for Karma Police is all backwards and knotted, and I narrowly kept from beating my head off the floor.
You see, my plan was to start writing with a big event, throw in some flashbacks to explain why they were there, have a big realization, and then End triumphantly at 50,001 words. That- did not work. I’m currently halfway through the flashbacks, and halfway through the strange little plotlines that insisted on appearing between the Big Event and the Big Realization. One of those is the floating town, actually. *takes a moment to love floating town* My realization was that my story actually is in three parts.
  1. The flashbacks.
  2. The Big Event and the cunning plotlines.
  3. The Big Realization and outfall.
Also, the cunning plotlines are supposed to help with the Big Realization, and I need to research metal working, specifically Ship Building, Zeppelin Design, Hydrogen safety, turn of the century Prisons, Rebellions and Guerilla Warfare, Class Structure, High Schools, Bank Security, Catholic rites for the almost-dead, oh, and gas mining. That’s what I know about now, more will undoubtedly come later.
Remind me again why I ever thought that writing fantasy would be easier than “real world?”
Anyhow. As riveting as I’m sure you found that, I actually have a question for you, my lovely readers! (I know you’re out there, I check my stats occasionally, and some of you even comment. Shocking, I know.) Here it is.

Should I go back now and write out the flashbacks that have revealed themselves to be Part 1, or should I fight on to the end before re-writing?

Part of my brain is saying Never Go Back!!! Resist the urge to edit! Resist! RESIST!!!!!
And part of my brain is saying Wait, you don’t even know why your characters are doing things! Go back, figure out what you’re exiling doing, THEN continue.
I’m not sure which plan is better, so there is the question of the hour.
What do YOU think?