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Month: July 2014

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.
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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.

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

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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.

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

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What did I learn at Clarion West [4]: When in doubt, give everyone superpowers

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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

(As a side note — I’m not sure my “avoid social media except for Sundays” thing is going to work, when I ended up spending most of my Sunday seeing The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay at Book-It Reperatory Theater, which was awesome, but that’s why you’re not seeing this until today.)

Each week of the Clarion West workshop — well, 5 of 6 weeks — you’re expected to write a fresh story. The expectation is that these will be new stories, written during the workshop, and not something pulled off your hard drive. The workshop is structured so that you typically have quite a bit of time in your schedule for crafting that story.

But if something isn’t coming together, you don’t have a lot of time to get on with your life, let your subconscious do its thing, and get back to the story later. Part of the pressure of the workshop is that you have to confront that story RIGHT NOW. Forget your life. This IS your life. We’re even going to cook your meals for you. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of your brain power can and should be going to figuring out how to make that story work.
Continue reading What did I learn at Clarion West [4]: When in doubt, give everyone superpowers

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