Workshop Envy

Twitter tells me today’s problem: it seems that Neil Gaiman, for once, chose his words badly. He has shared the following, out of enthusiasm for Clarion, a six-week summer intensive science fiction workshop.

This is not pleasing to many people.  Including me. Because Clarion is expensive already, and it mandates six free weeks in summer. I don’t have the money now and I don’t have the time. Luckily, half my friends went to Clarion, I myself went to the one-week Viable Paradise,  I’ve had enough stories published that I feel confident I don’t need Clarion, etc (plug here for my own best story of 2015).

But if you, like me, can’t take that time off and can’t get someone to watch the kids and unlike me, you’re just starting out as a writer, that tweet might make you pretty darn depressed.

I’m sorry.

I know how it feels.

I have three small children and two jobs. I get on the bus at 6:15 every morning so I can write from 7 to 7:30 at work, and I get a couple of hours on Sunday morning to revise that writing.

It’s nowhere near the time some of my friends have.

But to paraphrase a younger (perhaps wiser) Neil Gaiman, I get what everyone gets. I get a lifetime.

You don’t need Clarion. You need to write on a regular schedule, and possibly get a (GOOD) writing group, and you might want to study craft in some way, but you don’t need Clarion.

However… now’s the cautionary tale. Please don’t be an ass to those who CAN go.

They have a rare opportunity, and they only get a lifetime, too.

When I was young and a much worse writer, I applied to Clarion several times and never got in (shortlisted once). I did this because I had no kids and my parents supported artistic commitments like writing workshops and I was in college working a succession of disposable jobs. In 2005, I decided to apply to a “backup” workshop–Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. If I didn’t get into Clarion, at least I would get the one week intensive with Card.

Right before I attended OSC’s camp, I ran into a friend and gushed about the cool experience I was about to have at Literary Boot Camp. To my surprise, my friend, who was a struggling new mom, got quite cold. “How can you afford that?”

I was honest. “My parents paid for it.”

“Oh.” Colder. Ice cold. Freezing. She said, “Well, I can’t just ask my dad for money.”

Ouch. I felt terrible after that. I felt terrible that she couldn’t go, I felt terrible that I could, I felt terrible for being overprivileged, and I certainly wasn’t about to mention that this (much cheaper) workshop was my BACKUP and I’d actually planned to go to a six-week workshop in Seattle, but didn’t get in.

When my dad changed jobs, and started trying to retire, and I started having kids of my own, I understood a little more of how she felt. These days it’s all I can do to go to an occasional con. I would have to be between jobs and financially well in the black to go to Clarion. I managed Viable Paradise, which is one week, five years ago, only by grading papers and teaching online classes while I was there.

There are writers in a position to go to Clarion. A lot of them go on scholarships, especially writers of color. Many of my good friends went in college, or went in between periods of employment, or went when they could take advantage of family support. I’m encouraging some of my students to apply.

You may never be in that position, but if you were, you would take it. So have a little compassion, and remember that it’s not a magic ticket either. I didn’t sell any stories until well after I finished both Boot Camp and VP.

It’s a lifetime.