Last month I was in Charlotte, North Carolina for the 2012 National Poetry Slam. This was my 5th Nationals and my 4th being there on the Las Vegas Slam Team, and I was not disappointed by it. The poetry was breathtaking, the people were super nice, and I met so many new poet friends and connected with some old ones. It was probably my second-favorite Nats (after ’05 in Albuquerque, AKA “Half-A-Cookie”).
This week over at the Clarion Blog, alumni are sharing their 5 things they learned at the workshop. I have had a couple of friends query me on what it’s like and if they should apply and the only thing I can say is YES. DO IT. Because when they ask me what it’s like, I can’t really describe it. It will change your whole life: from your process, to how you look at the industry, even to how you live outside of your writing life.
1. Even if you’re not really a sprinter, you really can do it every so often. I hesitated applying for Clarion, only because short stories aren’t my strong suit. I don’t tend to write a lot of them (except for yearly projects). I’m more of a marathoner with novel-writing. But for 6 weeks, I went to town on writing new stories and looking at a couple of old things with new eyes. Don’t be afraid to write a short story, even if you feel like it’s not really your thing. Trust me on this.
2. Writing pretty is fine. It’s when you get too abstract that’s the problem. As a poet who writes fiction, I was a little scared as to how my stories would be read. There were points when I wrote some great stuff, but then I’d get too poetic on the page and would leave people cold. If you’re going to be literal, be literal. Sometimes just plain English works.
3. Read the stories over and over and over again. And when you get up before workshop, read them again. When I’m critiquing, I like to read stories over and over again, because I’ll get something different every time (except for flash fiction, but that’s different, you know?), and most of the time I miss things. My first read will always be for “enjoyment,” or at least getting an idea from a reader’s perspective what I liked and didn’t. Then I’ll go into deeper readings after that. Try to get as much out of the story (good and bad) as you possibly can.
4. Just because you’re a funny person doesn’t mean you can write funny stories. I like to make people laugh, and love to riff with other people about funny things. That doesn’t translate so well when it comes to writing humor in fiction. For me, it comes out forced. The funny moments are great when you aren’t thinking about it.
5. When you miss your friends, you’re doing the right thing. I was getting texts from my friends while they were out and about having a fabulous time back in Vegas without me, and my 29 year-old butt actually got homesick. It was horrible. But then I thought, “This is what I want to do. My friends will be there when I get back.” And I write everything about Vegas, so why not take that feeling and turn it into a story?
If you’re thinking about it, you have just over a month to apply– they’re taking applications until March 1st. GO. DO IT.
So I wanted to leave writing about critiquing until the end. There are many things to keep in mind when you want to get your work critiqued but have never had it done before.
I know I’ve talked a lot about characters, but they’re really important remember: characters are plot, so the more you know, the better.
Although all we critiqued at Clarion were regular narrative fiction stories (well, mostly, anyway), it wouldn’t hurt you to try writing in different other kinds of media.
I have to admit that I love humorous writing, and I love being funny in real life, but I’m not a big fan of writing funny stories.
Every story has an ending. For some people that’s a difficult concept to grasp.