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August 14, 2012 6:30 PM   Subscribe

"Last week, I graduated from the 2012 Clarion Writer’s Workshop. And everything people tell you about it is true—it’s incredible, it’s transformative, it will make you into the writer you were meant to be, it builds unbreakable bonds with a ton of other brilliant writers. AND you’ll be devastated when it’s over. As I attempt to process my grief at Clarion’s end, I thought I would transcribe the copious notes that I took during the course of those six weeks." Clarion 2012: Every Brilliant Piece of Writing Advice (via jscalzi)
posted by Artw (98 comments total) 122 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's a bunch of great stuff in here, I'm only one third in so far. But one thing struck me:

"TV/film’s lean mean 5-page scene"?

What screenplays have these people been reading? 5 pages is eternal.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:33 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


"5 pages is eternal"

Just like the time you spend waiting for the period at the end of that sentence...
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:35 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Always know what your protagonist’s central character flaw is.

Fuck. FUCK! God fucking dammit that's what's wrong with the first act. Fuck.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:39 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


restless_nomad: "Always know what your protagonist’s central character flaw is.

Fuck. FUCK! God fucking dammit that's what's wrong with the first act. Fuck
"

So, I'm guessing... propensity to fits of rage?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:49 PM on August 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


No, that's what I THOUGHT her main flaw was. I was wrong. Fuck.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:49 PM on August 14, 2012


“You guys want the real secret to being a great writer? Apply ass to chair.”
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:16 PM on August 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh for the ass-applying time...
posted by Artw at 7:30 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's also the secret to being an epic Internet time-waster.
posted by camcgee at 7:33 PM on August 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


Shit can always get shitter shittier

Fuck your fuckin edits, man.

posted by vozworth at 7:34 PM on August 14, 2012


it’s incredible, it’s transformative, it will make you into the writer you were meant to be, it builds unbreakable bonds with a ton of other brilliant writers. AND you’ll be devastated when it’s over.

From this description, it sounds entirely like a summer camp for grown-ups.
posted by hippybear at 7:42 PM on August 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


From this description, it sounds entirely like a summer camp for grown-ups.

Yeah, pretty much. (Clarion '98 represent.)
posted by Zed at 7:44 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Having been to both a similar SF/F workshop (Viable Paradise--it's Viable because it's only a week long and far, far cheaper) and an MFA program I can say without hesitation that the genre workshops are where career writers are made. I was beyond floored by what I learned over that week--not just career advice, but scads of thoughtful, well-considered craft advice, too. I can only imagine what you learn over the six weeks of Clarion. Hell, there are some days I wish I had skipped my MFA and just done Clarion instead.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:45 PM on August 14, 2012


It's also the secret to being an epic Internet time-waster.

1. Apply ass to chair
2. TURN OFF WIFI

Works wonders. Doesn't always work when in same building as children, spouses, pets, the washing up, anything else that needs attention, which is where an obliging coffeeshop with good power outlets comes in.
posted by Artw at 7:46 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi - I talked to someone about maybe doing Clarion once. We pretty much came to teh conclusion that it would be insane for me to go, but Viable Paradise might be an option.
posted by Artw at 7:47 PM on August 14, 2012


Oh for the ass-applying time...

Writers write. Therefore, writers make the time to write. I accomplished this by faking my death better part of thirty years ago. Unfortunately, my fatal flaw is procrastination. I have a very clean apartment.
posted by philip-random at 7:47 PM on August 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Apply ass to chair.

Oh FFS. There are millions, maybe billions of asses in chairs right now and that doesn't make them a great writer. It may be a necessary condition, but it is not a sufficient condition.

It might be more practical to give the advice, "put words together." When I am on a deadline, I mostly do that while drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and pacing back and forth furiously. I talked to my writing coach, she said it was a legitimate strategy, she used to do that herself, but one day she was smoking so furiously that she got nicotine poisoning and had to go to the hospital.

I would feel better about this list of "brilliant advice" if it was firsthand advice from successful writers, instead of secondhand advice from successful writers as selected by an aspiring writer. Hey kid, once you become a success, come back and revisit that list and tell me how much of it was total crap.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:52 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The days of me having spare time are long behind me and won't be coming back until the kids are out of school and I no longer need to eat/own ahouse. So beween work kids and mandfatory unconsciousness I get about 4 hours a week in which it's possible for me to actually sit down and concentrate on writing... the weird thing being that I now get far more done in those 4 hours than when I had days or weeks of spare time just there.
posted by Artw at 7:52 PM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


charlie don't surf - I suspect you're being a tad over literal there, and it will not serve you well.
posted by Artw at 7:55 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi - I talked to someone about maybe doing Clarion once. We pretty much came to teh conclusion that it would be insane for me to go, but Viable Paradise might be an option.

If you're considering a writing workshop, I have no words to tell you how good VP is, from the staff to the instructors to the students. Like you, I applied mostly because Clarion was not financially feasible for me. It ended up being much more than a "sorry we can't afford Clarion" consolation prize, though. It absolutely transformed my writing like nothing quite else.

(I also got my first black eye! Which is informative, at least, for story purposes.)

Oh FFS. There are millions, maybe billions of asses in chairs right now and that doesn't make them a great writer. It may be a necessary condition, but it is not a sufficient condition.

"Ass in chair" is really only half of the advice. "Hands on keyboard" is the other half. Of course, my hands are on my keyboard right now, but it's a start, at least.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:55 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


... the weird thing being that I now get far more done in those 4 hours than when I had days or weeks of spare time just there.

reminds of a story that William Goldman told in one of his books. It concerned an editor friend of his whose big passion was to write fiction, but work, family, kids, bills etc meant that he only had one morning a week to write (Sundays while the wife and kids were at church). It took him a couple of decades but eventually he had a novel, and it got published. Wish I remembered his name.

Anyway, the moral of the story remains: writers write. This guy made the time when and where he could, stuck with it and ultimately delivered something.
posted by philip-random at 7:58 PM on August 14, 2012


Hey kid, once you become a success, come back and revisit that list and tell me how much of it was total crap.

I write a reasonable amount and get paid for it, and I would say that not very much of that list was total crap, while at the same time not very much of it seemed like advice you needed to pay a lot of money and leave home to get. But it sounds like (despite the framing of the post) the advice you get at Clarion is not the point of Clarion.
posted by escabeche at 8:05 PM on August 14, 2012


charlie don't surf - I suspect you're being a tad over literal there, and it will not serve you well.

There seems to be this myth about the writer slaving away at the keyboard for hours on end, as if his millions of brain cells are millions of monkeys that will eventually type Shakespeare. I disagree. Writing, like any artistic medium, is about conveying ideas. If you want to write well, you need to think well. That is a lot harder than writing well. which is mostly mechanics. My favorite tip about writing is from Nabokov, "There are no great writers, only great readers." You can interpret that several different ways, but for our purposes, I will assert that if you want to write well, you must read great writing.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:06 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anyway, the moral of the story remains: writers write. This guy made the time when and where he could, stuck with it and ultimately delivered something.

Anthony Trollope wrote from 9 to 12 every morning. If he finished a novel at 10 am? Started the next novel and put in two more hours. That's how you write 47 novels. (They're good, too.)
posted by escabeche at 8:07 PM on August 14, 2012


If you want to write well, you need to think well.

You also need to write stuff down.
posted by Artw at 8:09 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


“Writers are often pulled towards things they know are wrong with them, or difficult for them, so you shouldn’t be surprised if someone who writes passionately about social justice turns out to be profoundly self-centered.”
That just hit me like a hammer. I find myself picking up the same circles of themes in writing. I write because there are so many things I'll never be able to resolve or wrap my head around, so I parse the heck out if it all.
posted by mochapickle at 8:09 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It may be a necessary condition, but it is not a sufficient condition.

It's really fucking necessary, though, and no amount of sophisticated book reading (values of "great" are both subjective and personal) will actually cause a novel to be written. Writing down words causes novels to be written.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:11 PM on August 14, 2012


Writing, like any artistic medium, is about conveying ideas.

I think very few artistic media are about conveying ideas, for what it's worth, though conveying ideas is certainly one of the things they're capable of.

I will assert that if you want to write well, you must read great writing.

But on this point I'm right there with you.
posted by escabeche at 8:12 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


But it sounds like (despite the framing of the post) the advice you get at Clarion is not the point of Clarion.

From what I hear writing, having wht you've written torn down, getting advice on rewriting or writing the next one, and then repeating again and again is the point of Clarion. So advice is part o it but not going to be the full thing.
posted by Artw at 8:12 PM on August 14, 2012


If you want to write well, you need to think well.

You also need to write stuff down.


Nearly every thing I've read about writers on writing basically says that you write, and you don't really worry about whether it's going well. At least not on the first draft. The point of the drafting process is to get things out of you onto paper. You go back and make them better during later passes over the material.

I only know one or two people in real life who are published authors, and they both individually have shared with me that the secret for them being successful with writing is that they sit down and write with discipline according to a schedule. They don't worry about how good it is or how well it is phrased. They don't edit while they write, at least not on any heavy level. They churn and churn for however long they've set aside for writing. Once they reach the end, that's when they go back and begin the process of turning what they've churned into something which actually works as something to read.

From what I've read about those who have gotten published NaNoWriMo projects, that's pretty much how it's worked for them, too.
posted by hippybear at 8:19 PM on August 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Writing down words causes novels to be written.

Writing down words causes ideas to be recorded. Any fool can learn the mechanics of writing. You better have some ideas.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:20 PM on August 14, 2012


Any asshole can have an idea, it's writing it down and successfully passing it on that counts. Do that, and you're a writer. Don't do that and you're just a loudmouth telling everyone about this idea you're going to do something with someday.
posted by Artw at 8:24 PM on August 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh ferrchissake I was surrounded by plenty of people in MFAland who read lots of smartypants books and wrote one story a year. In my experience, they frequently overvalued the depth of their thoughts and almost always undervalued the impact of hard work.

The truth is, it doesn't matter if you're intelligent or talented if you want to make a successful living as a writer. Plenty of idiots write books and have careers because they work their butts off. You want your deep ideas out there for the consumption of the general population? Learn to write a book a year. Otherwise you're just posturing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:25 PM on August 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


Any asshole can have an idea, it's writing it down and successfully passing it on that counts.

This is true in software engineering, too. Everyone thinks that their great idea for an app is so precious, but want you to do all the engineering work to turn it into reality for peanuts. These people are assholes who don't know what they're talking about.
posted by axiom at 8:29 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh ferrchissake...

Everything PhoBWanKenobi wrote in that comment made me immediately think of the protagonist of the HBO series Girls.
posted by hippybear at 8:30 PM on August 14, 2012


What screenplays have these people been reading? 5 pages is eternal.

5 pages = ~5 minutes... doesn't it?
posted by Huck500 at 8:32 PM on August 14, 2012


Everything PhoBWanKenobi wrote in that comment made me immediately think of the protagonist of the HBO series Girls.

Yes I may or may not have laughed until my stomach hurt at the book launch ep.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:34 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


People seem to like when I write porn, so I'm gonna keep doing that.
posted by The Whelk at 8:58 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Different writers have different ways of working. What works for one doesn't for another. There have been brilliant writers who just churned it out to a schedule (Trollope, as mentioned upthread, Greene for another) and equally brilliant writers who agonized over every word and spent long periods not writing with briefm feverish bouts of composition in between. I think the key thing is to find the method that works for you. Oh, and not to assume that because something worked for you it will work for everyone else, or that because something worked for a writer you admire there's something wrong with you if it doesn't work for you.
posted by yoink at 8:59 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


artw: Any asshole can have an idea, it's writing it down and successfully passing it on that counts. Do that, and you're a writer.

You better have some good ideas. Many years ago, my very first editor told me that just because I have ideas, doesn't mean anyone wants to read them. When people want to read what you wrote, and they want more, then you're a writer.

PhoBWanKenobi : In my experience, they frequently overvalued the depth of their thoughts and almost always undervalued the impact of hard work.

You are undervaluing thinking as hard work. Some people think on the fly, they make it up as they go along. But if you want to convey complex ideas, you will need to think hard. Even if you're improvising and reworking, you will have to spend a considerable amount of effort thinking about what you wrote.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:18 PM on August 14, 2012


It's a false dichotomy to say that the people who are productive are not people who think. It's also really condescending.

I know how to think, but thank you for your concern.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:20 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't care how you work I just need 50 pages on my desk by seven or we don't get to have a Christmas edition!

And there'd better at least 400 words of hot, hot man on ghost on excorist action or you'll never write supernatural porn in this town again!
posted by The Whelk at 9:25 PM on August 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


charlie don't surf - What exactly do you think the rest of the advice is about?
posted by Artw at 9:27 PM on August 14, 2012


I wish I was cool enough for one of these super awesome writer programs. They really do sound like summer camp for adults. Alas, I came to the conclusion about a year or so ago that I am just not cut out to write good fiction. I'm kinda sad about that--plus ain't no one gonna hold a Clarion or VP for creative nonfiction, which seems to be more my strength than making up super cool plots.

I do seriously wonder if writing workshops really get you to be an awesome writer if you weren't already having the stuff in you already, though. God knows I've read many, many books that say a lot of these same things, and I know most of them inherently from reading. I've taken classes, I've been in writer's groups, and my fiction writing is still decidedly "meh."

But that said, I like this quote by Anonymous Awesome Writer: “You can never write the thing you think will bring you fame and fortune, because you can never predict that. The stuff that hits is the stuff where the writer said “this is the secret of my deep dark heart,” and for whatever reason it resonates.”
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:34 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Different writers have different ways of working.

I think one point we can all agree on though, is that to be a writer you need a MacBook, preferably Air, with a cool band sticker on the back.
posted by SassHat at 9:38 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


That certainly qualifies you to play one on TV.
posted by Artw at 9:40 PM on August 14, 2012


No no no you need an overly large sense of self loathing that is actually really narcissistic when you think about it first.
posted by The Whelk at 9:40 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You need a cat.
posted by Artw at 9:42 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes definitely because what else will you wax.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:44 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


All this discussion of brute force writing vs. intelligent creativity is moot. Clarion is for writers of sci-fi and fantasy, and we all know that the prereq to being a highly successful writer in those genres is to be good at drawing cleavage.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:44 PM on August 14, 2012


Pretty much my only writing goals for the next year or so is to write 1) a believable heterosexual romance 2) an actual likable father figure. if I can do that, I'll feel confident.
posted by The Whelk at 9:47 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]




Oh! And a spy narrative, I wanna do a spy story, with all that too. Maybe some dinosaurs and laser guns.
posted by The Whelk at 9:49 PM on August 14, 2012


Many years ago, my very first editor told me that just because I have ideas, doesn't mean anyone wants to read them. When people want to read what you wrote, and they want more, then you're a writer.

Alas, I came to the conclusion about a year or so ago that I am just not cut out to write good fiction. I'm kinda sad about that--plus ain't no one gonna hold a Clarion or VP for creative nonfiction, which seems to be more my strength than making up super cool plots.


Yeah, the reason I don't write much is because I have yet to come up with anything that actually has anything someone else might find interesting to read. My characters have no character, my plots have no plot, there's no end in sight or reason for the events happening...

It's frustrating and discouraging, because I know I'm a very smart person and am generally interesting to know. But my imagination lacks any coherent thread, just wanders from one moment of fascination to the next, and while I could write that, it wouldn't be a novel. Maybe a book of poetry, but even then...

I have dreams of being a writer who creates stories or a novel which inspires others. But what I write doesn't inspire me. How do you get ideas if you don't actually have any?
posted by hippybear at 9:53 PM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wanna do a spy story, with all that too.

So, basically, you want to write James Bond meets Indiana Jones III?
posted by hippybear at 9:54 PM on August 14, 2012


OH GOD YES
posted by The Whelk at 9:55 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have dreams of being a writer who creates stories or a novel which inspires others. But what I write doesn't inspire me. How do you get ideas if you don't actually have any?

Marijuana, usually.

To a certain extent, I think writers are the people who have never really given up on make believe. I know that I've always had little narratives running parallel to whatever was going on with my life--fantasies about girls riding gryphons or about aliens touching down on Earth. Part of it is absorbing enough story to understand what a story is, inside and out (it was a funny moment when I realized all the monomyth claptrap I'd been resistant to learning about was really just a shortcut to describing a certain kind of narrative--I mean, obviously, but it seemed so formulaic. The weird thing was, I was jury rigging the same kinds of narratives backwards, through intuition. Conflict goes here; climax goes here). Story is a skill just like any other, and it needs to be practiced, but a lot of people who are writers have been practicing it in one form or another forever. So it's a little like saying to an artist "I wish I could draw" and they look at you funny because not only have they had formal schooling, but because even those margin doodles in their notebooks in third grade constituted "practice."

But I don't know about the "saying something that someone else might find interesting to read" part. I'm not about cutting off audience concerns, but they're definitely not primary. The person I write for is me, at twelve. If I can entertain her, then I figure it's a start. You might be being too hard on yourself on that count. And while "inspiring someone" is a lofty goal, it's far less concrete and attainable than "telling a good story." I think the latter's what's best focused on. Stories are your inspirational medium, I guess, and you need to get good at them, at the general shape of the thing, before you can worry about being transcendent.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:04 PM on August 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also if we take movie continuity then having a modern day Indy Athe 3rd would put him right in the right time frame to be a young explorer looking after Nazi caches and requiring the help of Steve Rogers which will lead them both to the ruins of Jurassic Park and the MiB project which tried to ruinous grandfather's legacy.

All Disney products, mind you, l'm still available for hire.
posted by The Whelk at 10:04 PM on August 14, 2012


But what I write doesn't inspire me. How do you get ideas if you don't actually have any?

Well, I think this is the less-obvious part of the "butt in seat" advice. Part of writing is inspiration. But part of it is craft, and like any craft, you have to practice. And what you produce as you practice isn't very good - that's kind of definitional. I've written one and two thirds novels so far, and the second one, even unfinished (and even with some of the major character development unexplored; see "oh fuck", above) is such a vastly more satisfying read than the first one that I was frankly startled. It's not that it's a better idea, it's that hammering through the first novel was a necessary step towards being able to write stories with recognizable humans doing things other than standing around discussing the plot.

(If you really don't have ideas at all, I can't help you. I have a google doc full of them, but I'm not sure I could give them away if I tried.)
posted by restless_nomad at 10:10 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Marijuana, usually.

*heh* Yeah. My lifestyle involved this heavily for decades but it didn't help.

Honestly, when I assess my talents, what I'm really REALLY good at is collaborating with others, springboarding ideas back and forth, understanding when something is good or something is not, helping shape a narrative as it emerges, and having insight into when something is extraneous and when something is essential.

I'm not at all good (or perhaps not at all confident) when it comes to blossoming a beautiful flower out of my own self. But I'm fucking AWESOME when it comes to being with someone else and causing something amazing to come into being between us.

I have one friend in particular who is incredibly creative and who is always doing things which he is putting out in front of others. The thing is, it's the projects which he and I have worked on together which cause audience reaction which I can only describe as the Wow Factor. By himself, he's too focussed on needless details and endless diversions and doing things which he thinks makes sense but which only confuse the intended audience. When I'm working with him, I do feed into the creative process, but I also rein in these weaknesses in his creative process and the end products are things which continue to be talked about for years to come.

(Most of our projects together have been massively planned multi-team scavenger hunt/road rally party events. But not all -- we've done skits and short plays, party-specific trivia quizzes, and other participatory events.)

Anyway, this is all becoming About Me, so I'll stop now. But I'd be welcome to communicating with PBWK via MeMail and see if maybe something can be drawn out of me which lies latent that I've not yet been able to discover.
posted by hippybear at 10:15 PM on August 14, 2012


Older woman younger man vampire rom com. He's unsure about someone so eccentric and she's worried about gold diggers and her whole being a serial killer thing.

There, that's an idea I've tried to sell like eight times.
posted by The Whelk at 10:16 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Older woman younger man vampire rom com. He's unsure about someone so eccentric and she's worried about gold diggers and her whole being a serial killer thing.

Wasn't the Demi Moore / Ashton Kutcher thing covered enough in the tabloids?
posted by hippybear at 10:22 PM on August 14, 2012


I think that was a Lauren Hutton and Jim Carey movie.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:24 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apply ass to chair? I disagree. I stand when I write and usually walk when I read/edit. And I should know a thing or two, as I just wrote the most important book of the last forty years.

(It's not that important. It's about walking and lawyers.)
posted by 3200 at 11:17 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Having ideas" is a skill like any other. It can be learnt and refined.

Here's an example of the process that's fresh in my mind:

I've been working on a short comic for this anthology I'm putting together. It's been kinda stalled, as I knew it's really not suited for the anthology. So this weekend while I was on the bus, I decided to ditch it and try again.

I figured it would be fun to do something about the characters from a one-pager I'd done called "The Eurydice Variations". A sexy magician dude prone to going about shirtless and his shape-shifting girlfriend. I knew they were in a warped version of Greek myth; their first appearance was a riff on the story of Orpheus (which came about mostly because I originally doodled the magician going down some stairs and wanted to know where he was going). I figured I'd put them through another Greek myth, but couldn't think of anything. So I stared out the bus window for a while.

I saw a crow perched on a power line. Crows feel mythic. I wrote down "crows". And stared out the window a while longer.

The bus passed some trees. Right. Wasn't there a story where some mortal got changed into a tree to "help" them hide from a god? I wrote down "someone turned into a tree by a 'helpful' god/dess".

I had lead characters, I had some seeds. But I needed a setting. So I looked out the window again. Soon, the bus passed a billboard for a casino. I liked that. I wrote down "a casino".

Which pretty quickly led to "tree is a tree because the god who owns a casino called in their gambling debts. Main characters run a con to cover them so tree can be human again". Because out of the things you do at a casino, "run a con" seemed like the most interesting option.

Then I got to the convention I was riding the bus to. I went into a panel; I kept on shifting between taking notes on parts I was interested in, and contemplating this plot.

I pondered the Greek pantheon. Hermes floated to the top of my mind, so I decided to have him own the casino. I doodled around and figured out what he'd look like in a snappy suit.

I tried to decide what kind of con they'd run. Got nowhere. After that panel, I did some quick googling of casino scams. I decided they'd hook up with someone who worked there. Why not have it be someone who's also a crow? Because the story needed a crow, according to my initial notes.

I still haven't decided on the scam, I need to do some more research on that. But in a couple hours, while doing other things, I essentially gathered some random input and put it together to make a story that sounds like it'll be a lot of fun to draw. I ain't saying it's anything great, it's just silly entertainment. I've got a beginning and an end (Hermes shows up when our heroes' scam fails, they bargain with/blackmail him into turning the tree back into a person, maybe he gives them some crazy obligation that will be the NEXT story about them, I haven't decided), and some hints at the middle.

You want to "have ideas"? Look around you. Go out for a walk, or a bus ride. Find some idea generators and reload them until something strikes a chord, then build on it by adding some more random input. Talk to a friend and see what they say about it - or what they ask. Ideas pretty much come from rubbing random things together and looking for a spark, it's very rare for one to explode full-born like Athena from Zeus' head.
posted by egypturnash at 11:27 PM on August 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


man that ended up longer than I meant it to
posted by egypturnash at 11:39 PM on August 14, 2012


Writing? That's that thing I try to do before I am drunk and crying.
posted by fleacircus at 11:59 PM on August 14, 2012


I seem to a lot of ideas when I'm writing something else, which probably doesn't help you much.

TBH javing ideas in itself doesn't seem to be that much of a problem for me - it's chaining those ideas together into something that will work that is. So quite often I'll have a bunch of fragmentary ideas that I've been toying with for ages and the aha! moemnt will be having another fragmentary idea that completes the chain and makes them usable. Sometimes it;s not even a new idea, it;s just that it occurs to me to combine things in a new way.
posted by Artw at 12:08 AM on August 15, 2012


I mostly came here to say that Ted Chiang is amazing. If I had six weeks, I'd be in Clarion (well, if I could make it).
posted by Han Tzu at 12:44 AM on August 15, 2012


Previous Ted Chiang, AKA Ted Chiang is indeed amazing.
posted by Artw at 12:47 AM on August 15, 2012


What a goddamn pusssnort this article was. I was determined to despise then ignore it, especially after the could-do-better writing example for the intro but then I started reading the points and by number xx I was nodding and planning ways to use these notes to flesh out a story on the boil. God I hate that.
posted by Kerasia at 4:45 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you for posting this. Clarion is one of those things that I know exists outside of my reality, and so the idea of attending is this romanticized concept. I've always been jealous of writers who can just spend weeks at a retreat/workshop and not have to worry about their jobs or money or anything else.
posted by haplesschild at 4:48 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


"While workshopping, when more than one person wants to speak, the one with more crazy in the eye wins."

Hah, this is true of every group discussion, but I'd never realised it before.
posted by harriet vane at 5:50 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Escabeche:

"But it sounds like (despite the framing of the post) the advice you get at Clarion is not the point of Clarion."

It is a point of Clarion but certainly not the only point of Clarion. One of the other points of Clarion is to give the writers who attend that year a peer group that they will maintain relationships with moving forward and possibly for the rest of their lives. A non-trivial number of published SF/F writers come out of the Clarion workshops (aside from Clarion, there's also Clarion West) and those connections made can become useful in various ways (some obvious and some not) over time.

It's entirely possible to create a peer group of writers without attending Clarion, of course. But Clarion is well-designed for the purpose.

Charlie Don't Surf:

You seem to be wildly overly annoyed with the "ass in chair" advice. As you note it is a necessary but not sufficient thing, but I don't really think anyone believes that it is anything other than that. When the person (who was not me, although I generally agree with it) gave the advice, I don't suspect that either they or their audience believed that ass in chair was all there was to it. This was a professional writer speaking to aspiring writers and all of them knew other work would be involved -- but that without the ass in chair, none of the rest matters. Ability is nothing without output. And that needs an ass in a chair.

I think you're also a bit missing the point when you complain:

"I would feel better about this list of 'brilliant advice' if it was firsthand advice from successful writers, instead of secondhand advice from successful writers as selected by an aspiring writer. Hey kid, once you become a success, come back and revisit that list and tell me how much of it was total crap."

It's useful to note that the collector of the quotes himself says, of the advice: "Some of it is contradictory. A lot of it is redundant. Some of it is original, and some of it is stuff people learned elsewhere, in other classes or books or from writer friends. Most of it I think is pretty rad advice. Some of it I don’t like so much, or only like in certain circumstances. As we said a lot at Clarion, keep a shovel full of salt ready, because you’ll need more than a few grains."

The point of this list is not that every single piece of advice in it is brilliant useful career-making gold; the point of the list is that this is the advice that got this aspiring writer thinking about the art, craft and business of writing in new and different ways than he had before. The immediate utility of it is to shake up his perceptions of what "writing" is; the utility of it as he goes on in his career is to check his own experiences against what others have told him.

In time, almost certainly some of it will be total crap, based on his own life experience as a writer. But that doesn't mean it wasn't useful, in terms of challenging his perceptions of what "writing" is and could be.

You seem angry out of proportion that this list even exists, CDS, and I guess I just don't get it.
posted by jscalzi at 6:31 AM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thanks for posting this!
posted by windykites at 6:42 AM on August 15, 2012


I just started taking the train to work, and it has turned into 50 valuable minutes a day of ass-in-chair time. There is no shortage of ideas, nor even of good ideas; what I have is a shortage of time to execute these good ideas.

So this gift of 50 minutes a day has arrived, not unexpectedly; but what I didn't expect was how incredibly quickly I fall into the writing habit. I used to pace around for hours thinking about what to write next, when I had hours to spend on such luxury; now I just re-read the last few paragraphs and get right into it. I have been doing this for less than a week, so maybe this is a honeymoon or whatever, but I think it is something I can sustain. Can I revise on the train? That remains to be seen.

The structured nature of this time, the hard, externally-imposed deadline (25 min. a pop!) are a godsend to me—I've written more in the past week than in the 2 months prior.
posted by Mister_A at 8:05 AM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


In my experience, they frequently overvalued the depth of their thoughts and almost always undervalued the impact of hard work.

I did my presentation in a Creative Writing class on Isaac Asimov. My point was that he may not have been the world's greatest stylist, but that he was hella productive -- and that if anyone in the class wanted to find real success as writers, they would worry more about their productivity than the details of style. Style will come.

Asimov was my own personal inspiration - and I realized that, unless like him, I wrote obsessively (wrote like some people eat), I would never be a professional writer, and I'm happier for that realization. For me, writing is too much of a chore. I liked the end result, but not the getting of it - not as much as I like databasing.
posted by jb at 8:07 AM on August 15, 2012


sorry, comma wandering --

that should have been

"I realized that unless, like him, I wrote obsessively, I would never be a professional writer."

I was relatively good - I got into a selective uni-level creative writing program. But I didn't feel the NEED to be writing, and had trouble keeping my ass in the chair when writing, so I realized that I didn't have drive to take it through.
posted by jb at 8:11 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is true in software engineering, too. Everyone thinks that their great idea for an app is so precious, but want you to do all the engineering work to turn it into reality for peanuts. These people are assholes who don't know what they're talking about.

Also known as middle management.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:16 AM on August 15, 2012


I was relatively good ... But I didn't feel the NEED to be writing

You'd probably make a good editor, then.
posted by Amanojaku at 8:23 AM on August 15, 2012


But it sounds like (despite the framing of the post) the advice you get at Clarion is not the point of Clarion.
From what I hear writing, having wht you've written torn down, getting advice on rewriting or writing the next one, and then repeating again and again is the point of Clarion.
I don't think there's some single point of Clarion, but the thing I got out of it that I've gotten nowhere else is the experience of listening to how wildly differently 17 smart, experienced readers can read the same story. It showed how easy it is to throw a reader out of the story for some infelicity you might have considered too minor for anyone to notice, let alone be bothered by; how the things you thought were obvious about your story often weren't, or, more rarely, how the things you thought were subtle were too obvious; it gave me a clue about just how hard the job is of collaborating with unknown readers on the stories they'll create in their minds from your words.
posted by Zed at 9:59 AM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


But what I write doesn't inspire me. How do you get ideas if you don't actually have any?

I go by the RISE sceario. ERIS works just as well, as does SIRE. That which we call good, effective, even great writing always comes from ...

Research
Imagination
Style
Experience

... always with an element of each, but not always the same balance. So how do you get ideas if your imagination and/or your experience isn't offering them? Get busy, do some research. And so on.
posted by philip-random at 10:17 AM on August 15, 2012


47. Learn to write even when you don't really want to write. Also, when you really, really don't want to write.

48. Consider moving somewhere where it's often overcast. It's easier to sit inside slaving at a computer when it's not brilliantly sunny outside.

49. Eventually, stop reading "how-to-write" articles and books.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:26 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


49. Eventually, stop reading "how-to-write" articles and books.

Nooooooooo! just... one... more!
posted by Zed at 10:30 AM on August 15, 2012


"Don't expect to make any money, or at least not enough to matter."
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 12:23 PM on August 15, 2012


From workshops past... The Turkey City Lexicon.
posted by Artw at 1:20 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


You seem angry out of proportion that this list even exists, CDS, and I guess I just don't get it.

I think I have the exactly appropriate amount of disdain that list deserves. Let me explain with a little story.

When I was a young art student, I found a very interesting book in the art school's library. It was a collection of research papers commissioned by IBM, on the application of computers in the arts. The book was written around 1960, so the applications were primitive, mostly statistics. I was stunned by one paper.

IBM commissioned a group of sociologists to study the experience of going to art school. The researchers observed every aspect of the school, the students, faculty, administration, and they observed it continuously for months. Mountains of statistics were recorded and analyzed.

The goal was to determine exactly how an art student became an artist, and how they learned from their teachers. But the statistics were absolutely incapable of determining how this was done. Even from their personal experiences, the observers were unable to form any opinions about how the mastery of an artistic media was transmitted from artists to students.

The biggest problem was the difficulty quantifying talent in any objective measure. Teachers could recognize it, but students could not. They all thought they had the talent. However, the statistics were able to accurately and objectively determine exactly one thing art schools did well, and that was effective for nearly all students. It was very simple. Art schools teach students how to dress like artists.

Ultimately, it is the same with any artistic medium. You can go to Clarion for a few weeks, spend years at the Writer's Workshop and get an MFA, read a list of advice, or whole books of instruction, and it will merely dress you up like a writer. These methods are fully capable of turning writers into writers.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:19 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ultimately, it is the same with any artistic medium. You can go to Clarion for a few weeks, spend years at the Writer's Workshop and get an MFA, read a list of advice, or whole books of instruction, and it will merely dress you up like a writer. These methods are fully capable of turning writers into writers.

That may be so, but Clarion has a remarkable list of graduates who have achieved equally remarkable professional success. Did they become successful because they went to Clarion, or does Clarion tend to attract and select for writers who are eventually remarkably successful? It's not entirely clear but I would think that at least being in the company of talented, career-minded peers would be a reason to attend Clarion. It can be inspiring and motivating to surround yourself with people who are sending out stories, courting agents, professionalizing themselves. It can help you take yourself and your career seriously.

Of course, you're talking about "talent." Which is abstract and kind of meaningless and, I suspect, does not matter. I don't care about being talented. I care about being skilled, and being successful.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:59 PM on August 15, 2012


Anyone applying to Clarion has to submit two short stories as part of the application process and so by any reasonable measure is already a writer - the advice is help them become better writers. By any reasonable measure it does so. I don't really see your reason for dismissing it other than you're kind of bitter and pretentious. Maybe you should let go of that if you want to acheive any kind of success.
posted by Artw at 8:03 PM on August 15, 2012


Yeah, I don't think anyone has ever claimed that Clarion (or Viable Paradise, for that matter) is a beginner's class.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:07 PM on August 15, 2012


You can go to Clarion for a few weeks, spend years at the Writer's Workshop and get an MFA, read a list of advice, or whole books of instruction, and it will merely dress you up like a writer. These methods are fully capable of turning writers into writers.

I'm not sure what I can say to that. Lots of people come out of these programs and have success as writers, lots don't. There are no controlled experiments. If you're determined to say that the post-MFA success of writer X proves that writer X was already a great writer pre-MFA, nobody can stop you.
posted by escabeche at 8:26 PM on August 15, 2012


That was an article I wanted to be about 10x longer. Loved it.

Have to say that MeFi has gone some way toward killing my writing motivation, because every time a writer is mentioned that I like, twenty people jump to trash the writing (while I am working up to that level of writing quality). Ok, not every time, but I never expect to produce Chiang/Banks/Miéville-quality stuff, so that isn't in question).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:03 PM on August 15, 2012


Oh everyone is going to trash everything, the primary unit of currency I think is caring, you can't create anything worthwhile until you put a few coins in the CARE A LOT slot, maybe transfer some bills from the GIVE A DAMN machine. Totally glib and Pretentious but I always thought the overestimate key skill was empathy, and if you didn't give a damn or care about your characters no one else would and it's your job to answer the, well why should I give a damn.
posted by The Whelk at 9:20 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


13 WRITING TIPS by Chuck Palahniuk
posted by Artw at 10:21 PM on August 15, 2012


Ok, not every time, but I never expect to produce Chiang/Banks/Miéville-quality stuff

Something very smart Steve Barnes had to say (and that list is long) is to not worry about how much talent other people have -- just pay attention to making the most of your own because that's all you can do.

And for any work, no matter how good how many people think it is, someone's going to hate it. The converse is nearly true -- you can often find people who love something, no matter how bad how many people think it is. Worrying about these numbers is the way of madness. If you care about your work, you've already done something cool. If some other people do, all the moreso.
posted by Zed at 9:41 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf:

"I think I have the exactly appropriate amount of disdain that list deserves. Let me explain with a little story."

You disdain the list because it was created via a pedagogical process you find unnecessary? Well, find your joy there, cds.

But I think you're awfully wound up over nothing much. I entirely understand the idea that a writer doesn't necessarily need writing classes or a degree in writing in order to write -- hi there, I have a degree in philosophy and the only way you could have gotten me into a workshop setting as a student was if you put a gun to my head -- but that's me, and for some folks, the writing workshop setting (or degree) has use for them. A workshop like Clarion tends to be self-selecting for people who believe a workshop setting could be useful to them. Maybe it will be. If it's not, meh, it's six weeks and a few thousand dollars. They'll survive.

What it appears you are doing is getting angry with people for living their lives in a way you don't approve of. Seems like a waste of time.
posted by jscalzi at 11:18 AM on August 16, 2012


I've long been a fan of John Barnes, but I only just found The Book Doctor's Little Black Bag, his blog of writing analysis and advice. Good, dense stuff.
posted by Zed at 12:51 PM on August 16, 2012


Also: write when you can. Especially while you're young. Later, when you have things like a spouse, childen, debt, a demanding (non-writing) career, social obligations, assorted addictions - you will want to write, you will have so many great ideas that you are just aching to get out in written form - but you just won't have the limited-by-the-laws-of-physics, blink-of-an-eye human fucking lifespan time to do it. Write as though it were your last chance to ever do so, because it just might be.
posted by jet_manifesto at 12:47 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]




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