Posts in Writing Programs

Five Things I Learned In The Last 10 Days

I have just returned to civilization after 10 days in Maine for my second residency (of five) in my low-res MFA program, where I’m specializing in popular fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, romance, horror, crime, mystery, etc.). It’s kind of like summer camp for writing nerds, and given all the insanity going on in the world right now, it was the perfect escape at the perfect time. There’s no way to really capture the experience, but I’m condensing all my Stonecoastian (that’s a word, right?) knowledge into THE five things I’ve learned and/or are taking with me until the next time I get to hang with my crazy awesome writer friends in Maine.

Drum roll please….

  1. Take risks. We had a whole seminar on risk-taking in fiction, but where I really saw this in action was during our student readings. Everyone gets the opportunity to read their work for 3 minutes, and most of us take it. Some are confident readers, some are nervous as hell, some stare down at cell phone screens and pray nobody calls for the next 3 minutes, some grip papers tightly in their hands. All are brave and inspiring. I loved how as the open mic kept going and nobody was booed off of the stage and/or burst into flames, more people tried to sign up for the last few open slots. Risk-taking. It’s contagious.
  2. Workshopping stories is THE BEST. I love being workshopped. Maybe I was brainwashed by my incredible Odyssey experience last summer, but there’s something so fun to me about seeing what people saw in your story, for good or for bad. As always, had two stories workshopped this go-round. Things I learned about them – it’s probably good to earn your endings, popular fiction students will see through your handwavium technology, and genocide is a downer. Can’t wait to dive back into these stories and get them up to shape and out to market.
  3. I want to be AllTheStonecoastProfessors when I grow up. Every night, we got to hear 3 or 4 of our teachers read from their work for 10 minutes. OMG. Talk about something to aspire to. Not sure how to really summarize the experience except to say, in the words of an old NYC TV commercial, “I laughed! I cried! It was better than Cats!”
  4. Our graduations are the rockingest. I’m not talking about the graduation party, though any group that turns out to the floor en masse for the Time Warp is filled with my kind of people. The graduation itself is just special. In maybe an hour, we were welcomed to the Republic of Poetry, asked to re-examine the blank page, and reminded to “stay gross” and always be who we are. Each time, I know the graduating class better and cry a little more, so I will probably just be a puddle with a cap on by the time I graduate, but it will totally be worth it.
  5. Community matters. One of the reason I love Stonecoast is that we all care about each other. It’s a heavy time in the world and there are always things happening in people’s lives outside of the program, but being at Stonecoast is like being wrapped in some sort of giant comforting creative hug of understanding. We stay up the extra hour to see how a friend is doing. We let the introverts have their time away. We dance into the night like we’re made of pure joy. We work together to make our writing better, to figure out what we’re each trying to say, and amplify each other’s voices.

I can’t wait until next time!

A Very Nice No

So I heard back from the Clarions. Clarion UCSD wait-listed me, while Clarion West very nicely rejected me and encouraged me wholeheartedly to apply again next year. I’m thrilled. Seems odd to feel good about hearing a no, but this is my first time applying to these kinds of programs and I really rushed into it and did it without knowing much of what I was doing. So to get encouraging denials makes me feel like I really have a shot at this whole writing thing. Still not doing enough (creative) writing, but I’m brimming with ideas, so all I need to do is focus and put pen to paper (or hand to keyboard, in my case).

I’ve still got a few programs to apply to – VONA Voices went out on the 15th, and I’m applying to Odyssey and Viable Paradise next. But even if all of them form-reject me, I’ll feel good about this season of program applications. Now I just need to start getting some nice rejections from publishers to get me closer to my 100, and I’ll be doing just fine.

Getting Back on the (Writing) Horse

I celebrated my application to Clarion the only way that made sense – by not writing at all for 2 weeks. I mean, what’s more fun: working on your writing, or Twitter-stalking everyone who applied to Clarion, making calendars in your head about when people heard in previous years and comparing it to this year, reading current works of previous Clarion attendees, and generally making yourself crazy? Obviously, it’s door B.

In my defense, it’s been a busy couple of weeks with work, freelancing, and pretending to prepare for my half-marathon (which I completed yesterday without dying – yay me!), but still, I’ve had plenty of time to watch all of Legend of Korra, which means I had plenty of time to Do The Thing and write. All my fellow Clarion applicants/Twitter-stalkees seem to write a story a day and have 15 submissions out/3 books written/4 short stories published/a statue of themselves waiting to be unveiled during Worldcon. They are seriously impressive – hope I get to meet them one day in Seattle/San Diego.

So it’s time to get back in the game. I’m scared to look at my Clarion submission pieces, which are the ones furthest along in the writing process, lest I find out how horrible they were or find another typo. Which leaves me with the option of either working on my two Island of Misfit Toys stories (aka those which need serious revision/revamping) or starting on one of my many new shiny story ideas like a crazy woman who collects new cats even though she can’t feed the current ones. Either way, I hereby pledge to the zero people who read this blog that I will begin writing again. Tomorrow. For sure.

I Applied To Clarion and All I Got Was This Awesome Insight

So I applied to Clarion and Clarion West. A day early, because apparently I don’t understand the difference between March 1st at midnight and March 2nd at midnight. I hadn’t written since going to Boskone – spent the past two weeks alternating between catching up on freelance work, relaxing with people I care about, and fussing over how to fix my memory story. All of a sudden, I was left with 24 hours to submit (in my time-universe, anyway) and so I forgot the memory story and instead finished my fairy tale (submitted to both), urban fantasy (for CW), and sociopath origin story (for Clarion – and wow, does that description make it seem better than it is).

I’m not sure how I feel about applying. A dear friend of mine just got into Odyssey, which I plan to apply for next, and he is both a great writer and a dedicated one. I feel a little…wishy-washy in comparison? Or maybe the word is squishy? When I read his writing, it’s like someone drawing a very clear map to somewhere, and mine feels more like the person who says “umm…well, if you look to the left, you’ll see a McDonald’s, or maybe it’s a Wendy’s, and then it’s 3 more blocks to the right, kinda.” It’s the same when I read stories from other folks who have applied to Clarion and have gotten published and I’m like – wow, I love your language and your style and I want to steal little bits of your talent and hug them and study them and then return them back to you unharmed.

I don’t think I’m a horrible writer or anything like that – as one of my favorite lines goes, “Stop worrying if your vision is new. Let others make that decision – they usually do. You keep moving on.” I think I just feel like these people are so passionate and they know exactly where they’re going and how to hone their talent and I’m just like “Blah – let me put this idea on the page and okay now read it here we go.” I want to figure out how to get from here to there. In some ways, the most exciting thing about applying to the Clarions was that I actually finished real non-flash stories. And they could be better, but they’re done, and that’s something.

One step at a time down the path, I guess. I don’t know if this is the year for me to get into a Clarion, but I did the application and I didn’t self-reject, and the rest is up to…well, whoever it’s up to.