Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Clarion Essay

Applicants to Clarion West Writer's Workshop have to write a letter of introduction, presumably for instructors to preview. Of course, we all hope that the letter exerts other (positive) influence during the selection of candidates. A few fellow applicants are sharing theirs on blogs and such, so here's mine. I tried to write from the heart; hope it doesn't bore anyone to tears.

As a writing instructor at a community college, I enjoy helping others learn to express their thoughts in writing, and I think I'm pretty good at it. I have a BA in English and a Master's degree in Women's Studies. I first encountered the workshop method in the English program and did four terms of short story and poetry workshop there. Often, I worked with people who resisted the workshop process because they felt their writing was art, and art need not yield to criticism. Another sad aspect of the program was its hostility to science fiction and fantasy. Fortunately, the experience hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for either, or my desire to attend Clarion.  
    The Women's Studies program prepared me to write science fiction in ways my instructors would probably never have guessed. My MA thesis concerned women writers and utopian fiction, which was a guarantee that I could spend hours reading back issues of Science Fiction Studies and Utopian Studies in the stacks of the campus library, plus all the utopian and dystopian novels I could get my hands on. A pleasing side effect of the research was my first professional publication, on the same topic. I learned a great deal about science fiction criticism and applied a fresh eye to aspects of works I had formerly enjoyed for their entertainment value alone. Of course, the program also taught me a tremendous amount about gender analysis, which is sometimes but not always important to science fiction. This is not to say I converted from a naive reader to a joyless analyzer of theme, plot, characterization and so forth. Rather, my enjoyment was magnified by that critical understanding, as was my desire to write my own quality stories. 
       Like many writers, I have been writing since childhood. Writing is a smaller portion of my life than I'd like for it to be, but it is an immensely satisfying part. When I'm not grading papers for class, helping my son with his homework, performing various volunteer tasks, escaping in a sci-fi novel or walking the dog, I'm writing. I write a monthly feature for a local newspaper and write pieces here and there for academic publications, but my passion is science fiction. Reams of notes and hours of voice memos are filled with story seeds and half-remembered dreams, working in my subconscious until I can sit at the computer and work the ideas into stories.
    I recently emerged from the office after two solid hours of keyboard-pounding, with what must have been a triumphant expression, when my spouse said something that completely floored me. He remarked, "I can see this is what you're meant to do." He was observing my exultant behavior, but he rarely sees the work itself. I submit to publications and have online buddies who occasionally critique my writing, but my husband is too biased to be my first reader. However, his words that day hit home because they felt true. To say that writing makes me happy only makes a vague swipe at description of my inner experience; it's an inadequate understatement of the obsessive, focused, thrilling condition that overtakes me.
    After years of jotting notes and fantasizing about the types of fictional worlds I want to create, I've now given myself permission to take that work seriously. I typically have several stories in process, and I have submitted a handful of shorts which have been politely rejected. I keep working on the parts of a novel that will one day click into place. This feels by turns incredibly frustrating and delightful, which (I've been told) means I'm doing something right. However, I can't shake the feeling that something is missing, and if I could just figure out what that is, something amazing might happen. 
    At Clarion, I hope to develop a quicker, more critical eye that I can use to hone the writing that I'm doing into something professionally viable. I want to work hard and fast, and ultimately learn what's working and what not. I crave the focused intensity of the experience and the intelligent company of other writers who feel the same. I'd also like to know that I'm on the right track, creatively, or if I should pack it in and stick to my day job. 

As an avid reader and writer from a young age, I wish to explore my own potential and soothe (or perhaps ignite) the craving I seem to have, the insistent urge to create the kind of fiction that has entertained and inspired me for so long. 

2 comments:

osomuerte said...

Nice. I wish I had been so concise in my description of what I hoped to get out of Clarion.

However, I can't guarantee that all the writers will offer intelligent company. Not if I'm there anyway. *g*

(Did I just do the grin thing? I thought I hated that.)

Utopiana said...

Haha!

Yes, well, I tried very hard to articulate for myself what I hope to get out of it. I'm a little less tweaked about it this year, but I kinda needed to say out loud why I feel so committed (or maybe obsessed is a better word) with the idea of Clarion.

I guess I couldn't just say, "It would be like heaven to get away from distractions and write like crazy."