Leave It All Behind: Advice For Certain Clarion Students
I’d been writing for twenty years when I started writing.
I entered Clarion with two decades’ worth of failure resting on my shoulder; no novels, no professional sales, no fans of my fictional worlds at all. And twenty years’ of failure is an arthritic, backbreaking load to carry, a thick sheaf of rejection slips so heavy it threatens to crush you. Every critique got filtered through that history, turned into evidence that I should give this “writing” thing up.
Which makes sense. Twenty years of solid effort at a thing seems enough. After two decades sans success, it’s time to start on an exit strategy.
Except that Clarion had just blown apart my concept of what it meant to be a writer. It had highlighted all my bad habits, taught me that I needed to get serious about not just writing but rewriting, showcased that things I thought were strengths were actually weaknesses. Everything I knew was wrong.
So I had to make everything else I knew wrong.
Five years ago, on my first day back from Clarion, I started writing. I literally flung aside the past twenty years’ of effort as a bad first draft to rewrite my whole career from scratch. That may have been one of the wisest decisions I ever made, right up there with “Should I marry Gini?” and “Should I take six weeks’ off from work to attend Clarion?” Shedding that load of expectation allowed me to work with freedom, to play with things, to take huge risks without worrying about what it all meant.
Which paid off, to some extent. Do I have a novel published? No. But I’ve had a lot of short stories published, and many people are fans of my fiction, and if there is a path to being a Writing Success – which I’m increasingly unconvinced of – I’m farther along that path than I ever was. (The quote that I’m clasping to heart today is, “I guess that’s why I aim for excellence — not being the best. Excellence is an abundant quality. Being the best depends on hierarchy.”)
So my advice if you’re one of those Clarion students who’s been battering at publication like a moth at the lamp – take today to shrive yourself. Let it all go. You know how transformed you are; let that be complete, and shed that caterpillar to become a butterfly.
You’ve done nothing before today. It’s all new.
Welcome to the world.