This picture was taken a year ago yesterday, approximately ten minutes after I found out I was accepted to the Clarion Writers’ Workshop for 2008. That night my girlfriend and I were planning to go out to dinner to celebrate her having finished her qualifying exam. We stopped at my apartment for some reason or other, and I checked my email, and suddenly we had something new to celebrate. I was just finishing a year of Figuring Things Out that I took for myself after I graduated from Trinity, during which I tried to decide if I was going to stay in the sciences or if I was going to try seriously to pursue being a writer. I viewed my application to Clarion as something of a personal test: if I could get in to this workshop, with that history and those instructors, then maybe being a science fiction author wasn’t just an impossible fantasy. Despite having been a creative writing major at my swanky, free-thinking arts high school, five years of pouring all of my mental energy into physics and mathematics had made me lose any strong sense of myself as a writer. Being accepted to Clarion was my first step toward taking myself seriously that way again. And, in all the ways that Kathleen Howard writes about so eloquently (must-read advice for those just accepted), attending it changed my life.
Now eighteen more lives are going to be changed. The Clarion 2009 class has been selected. You can see their names and links to some blogs at the UCSD Clarion Alumni page. Huge congratulations to all of you! You are in for an amazing, exhausting, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It’s a fascinating feeling, watching the cycle continue with a fresh group of students. Part of me feels a sense of loss–my Clarion is undeniably over now that there is a new, more recent one. But a large part of the appeal of Clarion when I first applied to it was its history. Forty years of being the proving ground for some of the best and most successful writers in SF. So another, greater part of me thrills to see the tradition continue, knowing that I am a part of that history now.
Finally: I can’t improve on Kat’s advice for the newly accepted. But I do have some thoughts for the newly not-accepted (some of whom I know read this blog). They all boil down to reasons why, disappointed as you may be, you should not be discouraged and you should apply again. Know that Clarion receives more qualified applicants than it has spaces available every year, and this year was no exception. The selection committee always has to make some very tough choices. So a rejection, especially one which says you impressed the committee, should not necessarily be seen as an indictment of your writing. You may well have been very close to getting in. Additionally, as long as attending Clarion lines up with your means and life goals you should keep applying because, honestly: if you have talent and are putting in effort, your odds of getting in are not bad. Pretend that applications were selected randomly. There are 18 spots open every year. The record number of applications in a year is 194. This year there were 91. (It is likely that economic factors depressed the number of applications somewhat. One third of this year’s accepted class is from California, as were a majority of all applicants. It looks like people for whom travel costs would be significant were less likely to apply this year.) If we use these numbers as a range, then (pretending quality of writing is not an issue) a random application has about a 10%-20% chance of being accepted. If you are serious and confident about your work, it is not unreasonable to assume that your chances of getting in are 1-in-5 or better. I can’t overstate how positive an experience Clarion was for me. Certainly worth continuing to shoot for, with odds like that.
One more note: While San Diego is my Clarion, there is actually a family of Clarion workshops. Clarion West in Seattle has accepted (almost all?) of its 2009 class as well, and congratulations to them! There is also an Australian workshop modeled after the American ones, Clarion South. Clarion South is currently struggling to meet its funding goal for its next session. The call is going out through the extended Clarion family: consider donating to Clarion South. Help keep the workshops alive, so that they will be there for future students and their wonderful tradition and history can continue to grow.