The Clarion West Write-a-Thon begins today. I set a modest fundraising goal of $100, as I’ve never done this before, and if you’re interested in sponsoring me, the link is here:
My goal for the next six weeks is to write 20,000 words of fiction, some of which will be expended upon revising a very rough draft of a story called “Wetness.” Here’s a snippet.
“There’s a naked man in your bathtub.”
“I can explain,” Calla said, which was basically a lie. She was on Skytrain, headed for her mandatory therapy session. “What are you doing at my place?”
“Returning some DVDs.” Calla’s ex, Richard, had given out sets of their keys to a half-dozen of their friends, the better to get their cats fed if they suddenly had to go out of town. She’d managed to retrieve all the others, but June had made a whole big don’t-you-love-me, OMG, and I’m the one who’s been loyal to you all this time issue of it all. Calla hadn’t found the backbone to ask, not with June being the only person still calling her since her job and relationship had both turned to manure. “I went downstairs for a pee and saw him in the mirror and scared myself witless.”
“Sorry. But June, can this wait? Right now I’m prepping myself to seem sane and sensible so I can have my job back.”
“How’d you even get him home? Ignoring the fact that he’s probably infested with… well, I shudder to think. He’s too heavy to ship. Even if you find someone on Ebay who wants a well-hung garden gnome, you’ll never make money off him.”
“But he’s okay?” she asked, and then bit her tongue. Shit, shit.
“Calla, he’s a statue.” June said.
If you are at or shadowing Clarion this year, I wish you the best.
I have just signed up for the Clarion West Write-A-Thon… they’re trying to get 100 writers joined up for the summer, so I thought I’d play along. If you might like to sponsor me, there’s a link here. Clarion’s a terrific workshop and a good cause. I got to meet some of last year’s class and their excitement about writing and general enthusiasm for SF and fantasy writing was infectious and delightful. You could be paying to teach your next favorite writer evar.
I’ve never done this before, but it’s pretty straightforward. The site says:
Sign up by June 18 to participate as a Clarion West Write-a-thon writer. Pick a writing goal: something that’s a little stretch; something that motivates you. Shadow the workshop from June 19 through July 29. Then write, write, write! Write 15 minutes or 4 hours a day, 250 words a day, or maybe 8000 words a week (we call that a “Swanwick”); revise a story or a chapter of your novel every week; complete a story, novella, or trilogy; submit three short stories to professional markets; or do something else completely different.
My goal is to write 20K of fiction between June 19th and July 29th. Ideally this will wrap up two half-written stories in progress and get me a little further into the current novel.
The workshop practice of having all the readers speak their piece while the author of a story or book fragment is required to listen quietly is generally accepted. I’ve seen this rule in play at Clarion and Turkey City and literary workshops too, and have heard others refer to them as “Milford” rules. I’m not sure I’ve workshopped anywhere that didn’t have this as a guideline.
Most of us seem to agree that when it’s your writing in the spotlight, the best use of your time is to just pay attention to the crits. Any energy you might spend defending what you were trying to achieve, or explaining things that weren’t clear, or catching the group up on the real life events that inspired your story (“It’s not hard to believe–it’s how it happened!”) is energy that’s better spent on a rewrite.
Where I see more mud and less agreement is in the area of a reader suggesting fixes for a given piece’s problems. There are those who are dead against this: any suggestion from you, the argument goes, is an attempt to rewrite someone else’s story. The answer you’re offering won’t be the right one. If they take your advice, the writer will screw up their story.
How much you get into actively suggesting in a peer workshop may depend on its culture and rules, on how far along the participants are in their writing career, and how well they know each other. I know plenty of people for whom a statement like, “The characterization in this could use some beefing up” would be plenty of feedback. Speaking very generally, though, and as someone who teaches people who are newer to writing, I do believe there are ways to offer concrete suggested fixes without rewriting the author’s work.
In my UCLA courses, where I get to set the rules, I allow writers to suggest specific changes to each other, with the understanding that “Do this to Element X!” is just a different way of highlighting whatever issue you had with that story element. Sometimes it’s clearer, I think, to demonstrate what you think isn’t working when you take a hypothetical bang at fixing it yourself.
So that’s how I go about it–“If you do X,” I’ll say, “then this and that might happen, and maybe we’ll understand why he killed the music teacher.” Sometimes X will be a broad, obviously unworkable suggestion, because the ‘maybe we’ll understand’ is the key to the message.
I suppose I could bend myself into rhetorical pretzels trying to explain how and why I don’t understand or agree with a given writing choice, but often a quick example of how to go about tackling the problem seems to me to be both appropriate and as elegant a way as any to get the idea across.
How about all of you? I’m open to other opinions on this, as always.
In the meantime, here’s a shot from Maplewood Flats that I think is both pretty and soothing:
Public Service Announcement I:: The writing workshop known as Reconstruction still has spaces available. Oz Drummond has a blog post with all the info here. The short version: Your stuff could get critiqued by Jack McDevitt, Mark Van Name, Steve Miller, Mary Robinette Kowal, Lawrence Schoen, Matthew Rotundo, Tom Doyle or Carl Frederick.
PSA II: Buy art to help Terri Windling: Terri Windling has reduced prices on her art so she can raise money to help with a family member’s medical expenses. Here’s info on the Big Painting Sale, and here’s her Etsy store. Buy now, buy hard, buy often.
Gone to the Dogs: I mentioned the pit bull who lives across the road in a passing way some time ago, generating much chatter. He tends to get tied up out on the porch of his home, and sings his woe for hours, usually in the midafternoon. Anyway, I caught him in mid-song a few weeks ago.
It took me a few days to identify the source of his peculiar strangled yowling, and I confess my initial reaction was relief that it a) wasn’t a baby and b) he didn’t live in the apartment directly below me. So–a few of you suggested I call someone, but I’m letting it sit. In the past I’ve called the SPCA about dogs who were in similar-but-vastly-worse conditions, only to end up sucked into a bureaucratic tangle that got the dog (or in one case the captured baby crow and its aggressive, freaked out parents) a frustrating-for-me pile of less than nothing. One of my cafe buds is their next door neighbor; I’ll ask him if he knows Pitty’s peeps.
In the meantime, he’s out there with a comfy blanket to sit on and a decent amount of slack in his leash, he’s not frying in inescapable direct sunlight, and he has water. There’s only been one occasion where he’s been out there longer than a couple hours in the afternoon. They didn’t have him out there this weekend, when it was ninety degrees out.
Jay Lake on the virtue of slowness in writing: Fast writing is not bad writing. But it’s not the best writing.
TOR.com’s Urban Fantasy Spotlight continues: “Olga,” by C.T. Adams is a crackin’ good ecofantasy, and there’s still time to win a bunch of very cool books if you comment within the contest thread by noon today!
I am sorry to report I haven’t scheduled any workshops for this summer–I’m simply not going to any conventions this summer. I will be at the Locus Awards on June 26th–maybe I’ll see some of you there!–and I am planning to go to Orycon this November.