Something Almost About Clarion
So, another Clarion year is starting, as are the journals that go along with it. I admit, while I've peeked into a few this year, I have no plans to read them as obsessively as I did before I went. And, to be honest, I didn't read any of them last year, ever.
Which is sort of strange, considering what a powerfully positive experience Clarion as a whole was for me. It's no understatement to say that the workshop changed both me and my writing drastically for the better. And yet I no longer feel any weepy nostalgia, nor any desire at all to go back there. Once, given the opportunity to go back to Clarion, I would have done so immediately. And there was a time when I would have gone back, but only if there would be the same people there with me. And now ... no.
And it's not just this way about Clarion, either, but all workshops. I was discussing this with others recently and talked about my recent realization that what I need at this point is not another workshop. What I need is to write, and write some more, and keep writing. There are things that I learned at Clarion that are still just coming to the surface and emerging slowly into my writing. It was an overwhelmingly intense experience, and so much knowledge was crammed into my head in such a short time that it's no wonder that it's taking this long to come into practice.
I also know that people can become stuck in that workshop/critique routine, attending more workshops, joining more critique groups, and on and on. Now don't get me wrong--I truly love critiquing stories. Not all stories, of course, nor all of the time. I'm pretty much down to critiquing for a rather select group of people, whose work I understand (or at least whose intent I understand) and respect, with most of that group critiquing for me when needed. I learned a lot by critiquing, not only picking apart others' stories but seeing how they picked apart mine, and why. And now I've done that.
Which is not to say that I think that my work is flawless, or even particularly good. I'm still standing on tiptoe to grasp at the edges of a professional level, and I know that. Yet I can't hope that someone else will lift me up; I have to reach and claw my way up both to publication and a higher level within my craft.
Both critiquing and workshopping can become a crutch, I think. It is something totally writing-related to do that is not actually writing. One can feel like a writer, because by god, we're working with stories. We're examining plot and structure and style, delving into the deep questions of characterization. Or one can also rationalize the total time sink that is critiquing by saying that the process helps not only the story itself but also the individual whose story is being critiqued and the critiquer herself. And this is true to a certain extent, I think, but only so far. There comes a time when you have learned what these people have to give you, and just need to make the leap yourself.
I guess that's what it comes down to: finding a space where one can trust one's self and one's writing. To know that it is a flawed process and a flawed product, no matter what one does or how many workshops or critique groups are consulted, and do it anyway.
(And now, having mangled a good half-dozen metaphors, I think it's time for bed.)