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Clarion West Write-a-thon 2017: Week 5 progress report

The 2017 Clarion West Write-a-thon is happening now! You can sponsor me, or sponsor another writer. A shout-out to all the summer birthday kids, who marked their passage through life on family road trips and dried-out summer days, in suburban isolation or Vacation Bible School. Or, you know, during writing workshops. My birthday, coming as it does in the late middle part of July, is always during Clarion West, probably always during the fifth week. And so it was in 2006 when I attended the workshop. In fact, my birthday was on a Thursday that year too, and I spent…

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Clarion West Write-a-thon 2017 Post 1: Father’s Day, science fiction, skepticism

Hello everyone and welcome to the first day of the 2017 Clarion West Write-a-thon, where you can sponsor me, or sponsor another writer, or sponsor all the writers. Sponsor somebody who isn’t me just to spite me! It’s okay! I realize it’s become one of my traditions to write weekly essays during the Write-a-thon, so if you’re just dying for me to write about something other than politics for a change, you’re in luck! (Fair warning: there might still be politics.) My three topics for this essay: Father’s Day, science fiction, and skepticism. My dad introduced me to science fiction,…

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2016 Write-a-thon Week 5 report: little failures

Halfway through the final week — we’re really in the home stretch now! (At the actual workshop, this was the point where we started painting each others’ toenails.) Accomplishment-wise, week 5 was kind of a mixed bag. I was on vacation for my birthday and was hoping to check two of my remaining goals off the list. But I actually got less writing done than in a normal work week. I think this was because my writing strategy was “optimistically carry my iPad around all day with its brand new copy of Scrivener installed and hope vaguely to snatch a…

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Saint Expedite and me: Part 2

The Write-a-thon is on! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon In 2006 I started telling the “How Saint Expedite got me into Clarion West” story to anyone who seemed interested. A version of it existed on a previous version of the gothhouse.org website. That’s how my husband’s sister Dorothy knew to call us up and say, “You know that statue that’s been in the crawlspace forever? I think it’s Saint Expedite.” We thought this unlikely, to say the least. Because there aren’t statues of Saint Expedite — not in this country, anyway. The one in New…

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Saint Expedite and me: Part 1

The Write-a-thon is on! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon During the Great Boxing Week Ice Storm of 1996  Paul and I flew to New Orleans for the first time. We spent a day crammed into SeaTac airport with thousands of other stranded travelers, as the airport gradually ran out of food, plane de-icer, civility, and hope. The airline promised us, again and again, that our prospective flight was “your best bet for getting outta here.” And, truthfully, even if we had gotten fed up enough to bag the trip and leave the airport, the entire Puget…

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The Shadow Workshop [6]: Six weeks gone

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! IT IS NOT TOO LATE! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon In my notebook observations , I wrote: Six weeks is longer than it seems at first It’s also shorter. And this year, once again, it’s already over. So, success at meeting goals! What did I set as my goals, anyway? Hmm, let’s see… 1. Write every day. Okay, I managed that! However, I didn’t get in much time per day. I also didn’t manage any really long writing sessions on the weekends — just about every…

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The Shadow Workshop [5]: Joy of deadlines

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon Returning to my notebook observations after the first Shadow Workshop: I sometimes put barriers up that are wholly artificial. Like, “I have to finish this thing before I work on this other thing.” If you’re like me, you’re constantly juggling a lot of different projects all at the same time, and have a to-do list that never seems to end. Right now, sitting here, at the end of Clarion West Week 5, there are at least a dozen different things I…

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The Shadow Workshop [4]: Confessions of a reformed pantser

“Are you a plotter or a pantser?” I was asked this while sitting at the Clarion West booth at Emerald City Comicon. I first saw this dichotomy outlined in a post on the NaNoWriMo blog. (NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, where the challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. “Plotter” or “planner” is fairly obvious — somebody who plans out a novel before starting to write it. “Pantser” refers to “seat-of-pants” meaning, you just start writing and see what happens. It’s kind of a funny way to describe oneself, really. “Pantser” isn’t even…

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The Shadow Workshop [3]: When is it time to let go?

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon Writing six stories in six weeks means six ideas, right? At least, that’s what I thought during my do-it-yourself Clarion West shadow workshop. With a deadline only I cared about, and nobody critiquing the stories but me, I still put in a good faith effort to write six stories. But only one of them ended up being a finished story of the type that I might hypothetically submit for publication somewhere. The others were a collection of scenes and notes and…

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The Shadow Workshop [2]: A crit group of one

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon For my second Write-a-thon topic, I want to tackle the last thought in my notebook: Sometimes I like my work. Sometimes I hate it. I don’t know which time I’m correct. When I did my shadow Clarion West, I knew that there was one thing a real student would get that I didn’t get: critiques. What I didn’t know was that giving critiques, and listening to the critiques of others, was actually the more significant experience. (Discussed here in last year’s…

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The Shadow Workshop [1] : Ants & housework

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon Memory is funny. I would have sworn that the first time I tried my own do-it-yourself Clarion West Write-a-thon was the first year I applied, but didn’t get in — 2002. But I also keep notebooks, and discovered that my memory is faulty. My first “Clarion Rejects Write-a-thon” was actually in 2004, which was the second time I applied but didn’t get in. My goal was to write six short stories in six weeks, which was the Clarion West Challenge as…

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What did I learn at Clarion West [6]: The lifelong workshop

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Part of the Clarion West 2014 Write-a-thon series.
Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

My final essay is about the most important and career-changing thing that I learned at Clarion West: how to approach my own work from the meta direction. This lesson is still working for me today. It’s what allowed me to read a book like Save the Cat! and use it to improve the structure of my novel in progress, or how to get a series of really excellent editorial critiques from Anne Mini and improve every sentence I’ve written since then. (Not to mention that I finally figured out how to write a novel synopsis.)

I learned how to learn.

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What did I learn at Clarion West [5]: Everybody gathers in the kitchen for a nice cup of tea

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Part of the Clarion West 2014 Write-a-thon series.
Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

Did you know that the essence of story is conflict?

I mean — I probably knew that, actually, even before Clarion West. I’m sure I’ve (correctly) identified the central conflict in a story on a multiple choice test as “man vs. nature” “man vs. man” or “man vs. himself.” And even before Clarion West I probably had some dim notion that if you get a story idea, like “I want to write about a werewolf in New Orleans,” it’s not really a story idea until you have given that werewolf a problem to solve. “Going around being a werewolf” sounds cool and everything, but it’s not a story.

Before Clarion, the big problem I needed to solve (other than my submitaphobia) was the sophomore novel problem. I had cleared the first important hurdle: I had succeeded in producing a thing of novel length that more or less resembled a novel. (It took four or five years, uncountable hours of typing, and three computers.)

Every piece of advice said pretty much the same thing: while you’re trying to sell the first novel, work on the next novel. I think the idea is that you probably won’t sell the first one, but eventually you’ll have a second one, plus a better idea of how the selling process works, and valuable feedback which will improve the second one, and maybe you’ll sell that second one. (Repeat process as many times as necessary, accumulating “trunk novels” along the way.)

This seemed totally reasonable.

But I couldn’t do it.

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