Now is the time to apply to writers’ workshops. Now that I’ve had several weeks to let the dust settle from having attended Paradise Lost, and having attended Taos Toolbox last year and Clarion several years before that, I’m eager to plunge into comparing and contrasting these three science fiction and fantasy writers’ workshops. They obviously differ in the time commitment, ranging from three days (Paradise Lost) to two weeks(Taos Toolbox) to six weeks (Clarion & Clarion West).
Which is best for you? First and foremost, you should give some serious thought to whether you have the mental energy to complete them. At Paradise Lost, you’ll have a few weeks in advance to critique roughly four works of 5000 words apiece (20,000 total). At Taos Toolbox, you’ll have about a month to critique 15-16 novel beginnings of 10,000 words each (150,000-160,000 words total) and then another 5000 words per piece submitted during Week Two, which comes to somewhere around 230,000 total words. Clarion can be more variable, but I’m guessing you’ll read and critique around 250,000 to 300,000 words of stories over the course of six weeks. If you’re a slow critiquer, which I am, the time commitment is considerable. And that’s just for critiquing! There’s also the time you’ll need for your own writing, attending class and critique sessions, and socializing with other writers. What invariably gets shorted is sleep. I think it fair to say that the difference between the workshops is much like the difference between a sprint, a medium-distance run, and a marathon. Beyond that, they all shine at:
1) Providing topnotch classroom instruction by some of the best writers in our field.
2) Teaching you how to identify what’s working well and what could be improved in others’ stories, which can translate into improving your own fiction,
3) Supplying you with critiques of your stories by experienced professional writers and other workshop participants.
4) Removing the preponderance of day-to-day distractions from writing, such as your day job, your family, etc.
5) Fostering genuine friendships with other newbie writers or newish pros who know what you’re going through and can provide moral support and insightful critiques for years to come. Don’t discount the value of this as you embark on a solitary endeavor.
And yet, if you’re looking for a magic potion, you’ll find that these workshops cannot:
1) Make sure you keep on writing daily, weekly, monthly, or ever,
2) Force you to finish all – or any – of the stories or novels you began in a burst of enthusiasm,
3) See that you press the ‘submit’ button, and keep doing so each time a rejection comes back.
So back to the question – is one is for you? Here are a few more considerations:
1) How much time you can take away from family, job, friends, and your day-to-day life?
2) Can you afford it financially? Clarion does have scholarships that help a great many attendees.Paradise Lost has also begun to offer a limited amount of financial assistance.
3) Are you psychologically prepared for a bunch of smart students and an established professional to (hopefully gently) suggest that the child of your creativity is clumsy or merely ordinary or in need of so much more work? If you are already in a critique group, be prepared for a more intense experience.
4) Where are you in your career, and what you are writing? Clarion is a great starting point if you’ve never been published and are writing short stories. Taos Toolbox is terrific if you’ve published a story or three but feel you have more to learn, particularly about novel writing. Paradise Lost is good for those who’ve been to either of the other two workshops, and are seriously thinking of a career in fiction writing.
One last thought, Clarion, Taos Toolbox, and Paradise Lost are all head and shoulders above trying to muddle through by learning your craft in isolation. Yes, it is possible to do it on your own or via an MFA or on-line program or some other way. Many fine writers have done so. Then again, many other fine writers attribute their initial success to one of these workshops.