Clarion South advice – part 3

I’ve been caught a little unawares by the ever industrious Robert Hoge and his fellow Clarion South convenors. Applications are now open for Clarion South 2007, so step up one and all and get those applications in early.

While others have plenty of practical Clarion preparation advice to offer, I’ve been trying to keep my tips a little more oblique or left of centre than the usual fare. Thus far, I’ve kept it reasonably simple. However, I throw some weird stuff in on this CS advice post.

Does graduating from Clarion South get your foot in any doors? (Or, “Is it worth it” part 2)?

I’ve been doing a little digging into the slushpile of a magazine dear to my heart – Shadowed Realms – and found some interesting facts. Clarion graduates have a remarkable strike rate! Not just Clarion South graduates too, but folks from the US Clarions as well. For instance, Paul Haines from the class of 04 has been published; Mark Barnes from the class of 05 has had two stories published; Suzanne Church, Susan Wardle, Deborah McDonnell, and Nathan Burrage all have stories published (or forthcoming) in Shadowed Realms. Greg Beatty is another Clarion (US) graduate, and he’s been published a few times. I know the CS 05 graduates, so this might seem like favouritism. However, one inescapable fact remains. I never chose any of the stories from these authors, that’s simply not my job. These people all submitted work to the slushpile which was of professional quality, and which stood out from the hundreds of other stories submitted.

Is that an anomoly, you say? Surely, there’s an element of favouritism? Well, having ‘attended/graduated/whatever from Clarion South’ in your cover letter IS a guarantee of quality. I know these people have slogged through six tough weeks, worked with the best authors and editors in the world, and put their lives on hold for that time to invest in their writing careers. Having ‘Clarion South graduate’ in your cover letter means you’ve demonstrated you can sit through untold hours of critiquing stories and work under pressure to deadlines. It’s a label that screams ‘professional’ whether you’ve been published or not.

Your writing quality will improve (although your output may decrease for a while – more on that in a sec), your self-editing will improve, and you will gain a network of people, some of whom may write to you one day and say “Hey, I have this great project coming up. Would you like to be part of it?”

What is this ‘Clarion curse’ thingo?

Perhaps it’s burnout, or adjustment back into the real world, but the vast majority of CS grads tend to *not* write for several months following the workshop. The crits are often stressful things, but the knowledge you pick up settles deep inside the ‘lizard-brain’. In those months of struggling to get into a new writing rhythm, you’ll find the perfect opportunity to go over your Clarion stories and apply the knowledge nestled in your subconscious. Just don’t do it too soon after the workshop. Give it at least a few weeks, if not longer. Do your editing and the writing will return in its own good time – and it will be better, much, much better!

Also, don’t read anything, not for a good long while. Your newly awakened Clarion editor inside will rip to shreds any novel you choose to read. It’s like a red pen comes to life before your eyes! Remember, as a Clarion graduate, you took the red pill Neo – you see the (publishing) world how it really is. Everything popularly commercial you once loved tastes like literary gruel. Your standards jump. Remember, no reading for a good long while – wait to the pendulum swings back to normal (rather than critiquer-nazi-beast).

Okay, you think: I’ll give this Clarion thing a go. I’m getting a reputation. I’ve been published in such-and-such magazine. How does Clarion South affect the ego?

Badly. Very badly, especially if you have dibs on yourself (*ahem*). Go into it with a willingness to learn. Don’t try to score points in the first crit sessions (although don’t be all touchy feely – honest, constructive critique is what people want – not ‘I loved this, nothing to add’). If you try to assert your special knowledge, reputation, etc, you’ll have sixteen critters gunning for your next story. If that doesn’t bring you down a peg, a few choice words from the tutor, who has more experience than you by a factor of twenty (at least), will do the trick. Everything works out in the end, but reducing your expectations and assumptions to start makes the experience all the more rewarding.

Your ego will thank you later when you’re the rising star of the literary world (or something like that).

Can I disagree with a crit or a tutor?

Darn right you can! Just don’t make a show of it. At CS 2005, the crit sessions consisted of each fellow participant having 2 minutes to crit the story, and then the tutor taking as long as they needed (which in some cases went upwards of an hour). The critee must sit in dignified silence until all the manuscripts (with everyone’s comments) are handed back to the critee, then s/he gets to have his/her say for a couple of minutes (optional). Usually, a thank you is in order, even if they’ve just torn you a new orifice or three. A tip for the wise – use this opportunity to ask specific questions which will help you improve the story, not blindly defend something you took umbrance with.

Also, the occasional tangential issue arises. In the course of one crit, I made mention of comma usage (one of my bugbears, Angela’s too!) for which I was soundly shouted down by everyone, including the tutor. I let the subject go, but with some subsequent research, it turns out I clarified my point, learned something in the bargain, and realised I was probably right in that instance. Choose your battles and learn from them – win, lose, or draw.

Another anecdote – I disagreed with one of my tutors in my private hourly session about the use of gerunds (those words ending with an ‘ing’, like ‘ending’) – specifically using gerunds at the start of sentences. It’s a practise I adopted to get more ‘action’ into my work, but I vastly overused it. I disagreed rather vehemently with the tutor at the time, but he was right. I researched, I learned from it – now my writing is smoother because of it. Disagreement often leads to opportunity and improvement.

That’ll do for this session. I’ll probably post another bout of advice in the near future. In the meantime potential Clarionites, shoot me an email or leave a comment if you’d like something specific answered. Below I’ve listed links to my two prior posts. Good luck with your application. Application info is on the Clarion South website.

Shane’s earlier advice:

Clarion South advice – part 1

Clarion South advice – part 2