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Learn to Write Good

Judging by the emails I receive, there are a lot of aspiring writers among my readership.

I wanted to make mention of a couple of summer writing programs that might be of interest to you.

First, the legendary Clarion workshop, which began with Damon Knight in Clarion College, Pennsylvania, and is now in scenic San Diego. An intensive six-week writer's boot camp that will make you, break you, maybe change your life. I will be one of the instructors at this year's Clarion, along with Delia Sherman, Dale Bailey, Samuel R. Delany, Jeff Vandermeer, and Anne Vandermeer. For more details, check out


Applications for Clarion are being accepted now, and will close on March 1... so if you've ever wanted to have me read and critique your work, and learn the secret handshake and the diagonal relationship, speak now or hold your peace until the next time I do a workshop (which probably won't be for a few more years).

[[ I do NOT read unpublished manuscripts that are mailed or emailed to me, so don't even think that. I do my teaching and critiquing only with a workshop context. And sorry, no, I won't be your mentor.]]

Clarion has been helping to turn out professional SF and fantasy writers since the 60s. Maybe you're the next one. You'll never know unless you apply. But be warned, only a few are chosen. Admissions are extremely competitive, with only one of five applicants getting in.

For writers who are already published, but are looking to take the next step in their careers, there is the Taos Toolbox, founded and run by my friend Walter Jon Williams and held right here in scenic New Mexico.


Walter Jon's pitches his Toolbox as more of a "graduate study" program, for writers with a bit more experience. Graduates of Clarion, Clarion West, and Odyssey, neopros with a few sales under their belts, even journeymen looking to improve. I am not connected with the Toolbox, but I did a guest lecture there a few years ago, and it struck me as a great program. This year Nancy Kress will be assisting WJW with the teaching, and Carrie Vaughn (of Kitty and Wild Cards fame) will be giving a guest lecture. And when you're not writing, reading, critiquing, or listening to lectures, hey, you'll be in Taos.

Clarion Workshop and the Taos Toolbox. If you want to write, check 'em out.


( 44 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 7th, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC)
Hey George, I just posted info for another writing course on my blog - it's on online course and is being done in conjunction with one of South Africa's biggest publishers; here's the info: http://davebrendon.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/the-random-house-struik-get-smarter-creative-writing-course/

Looking forward to the day I can take on Clarion! :-)
Jan. 7th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
Another one people should know about is Alpha, a one-week summer workshop in Pittsburgh for writers aged 14-19. Author guests this summer will be Holly Black, Timothy Zahn, Tamora Pierce, and Mike Arnzen.
Jan. 7th, 2010 07:48 pm (UTC)
Please don't forget the wonderful Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop taught by Jeanne Cavelos in Manchester, New Hampshire:http://www.sff.net/odyssey/

I attended this workshop in 2005...after finding out about through my favorite author's blog. :)
Jan. 7th, 2010 08:32 pm (UTC)
I think it's really awesome that you're doing that. When I was a teenager, I attended a much shorter writer's workshop run by Margaret Weis, and (although now that I'm older, I find myself disagreeing with a good amount of her advice)I found it extremely enjoyable and rewarding.

I'd go if I didn't have a 16 month old who doesn't give me vacation time!
Jan. 7th, 2010 08:36 pm (UTC)
Taos Toolbox transformed me from a 97-lb. weakling to a Real Man!
Seriously, though: I attended Taos Toolbox the year GRRM was guest lecturer and I can't say enough good things about it. I can absolutely draw a straight line from that workshop to the several SFWA Pro sales I made afterward. Well worth it -- plus Taos Ski Valley is BEAUTIFUL!
Jan. 7th, 2010 08:40 pm (UTC)
I was at the inaugural Taos Toolbox in 2007 and I highly recommend it. Several entries on my blog are tagged as "Taos Toolbox" if anyone is interested.

Notes from your guest lecture are scrawled across several pages of my TT notebook.

Jan. 7th, 2010 08:49 pm (UTC)
very nice of you :)
I am from far country so I wont be able to attend any of this, but it's really nice that you help writers :)

I just write, and hope someday when I'll finish my book, some publisher will like it enough to publish it. At least I am enjoying writing.
Jan. 8th, 2010 09:33 am (UTC)
Re: very nice of you :)
I'm pretty much in the same position. I won't be able to attend workshops or anything. I just write... and get inspired by great authors like George. When my book is finished, I will start sending it to publishers, and use the potential feedback to improve my writing.
Jan. 7th, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
I really wish I could go but... I write in French anyway XD I only write some obscure fics to level up my English haha XD

Still, it should be truly interesting *________* I've done some workshop in LJ with a friend - who sadly deleted her LJ - and it was truly interesting and challenging. I loved that.
Jan. 7th, 2010 09:57 pm (UTC)
There's this SF Writer's Workshop in Conjunction with the Campbell Conference, too, if you're in the center of the USA.
Jan. 7th, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)

Unfortunately Clarion is a luxury for most of us. But who knows--maybe someday there will be both the time and money.
Jan. 7th, 2010 10:09 pm (UTC)
For me, it's so disheartening to see how much it costs, but...it's a nice dream ;)

Jan. 22nd, 2010 01:40 am (UTC)
And a valuable dream to have. The scholarship application is really easy to fill in http://clarion.ucsd.edu/scholarships.html

Just the process of applying was valuable (I recommend applying with your best two short stories, get the scary bit done... then have your brain expanded by reading people's blogs and reading all your potential instructors).

I can honestly say Clarion has joyously changed my life

Good luck

Liz (Class of '09)
Jan. 7th, 2010 10:20 pm (UTC)
Alright, if you won't be my mentor, maybe I'll be yours?
Jan. 7th, 2010 10:25 pm (UTC)
It's a shame I currently have a full-time job, cos there's no way I can take 6 weeks off. No Clarion for me :(
Jan. 7th, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the head's-up. I'd try to make it, but right now the application fee is all I can muster.

For those who are considering it, I recently read Donald Mead's interview with Glenn Cook, in which Cook said this when asked if Clarion was important to him:

"Early on, very important. I learned a lot there. Clarion can’t teach you talent, but it can show you what you’re doing wrong. I learned not to overwrite, to keep things simple as far as sentence structure is concerned. My early attempts at writing were very much influenced by classical British fantasy writers who tended to be very flowery and ornate and lapsed into classical Greek as they were going along and expected you to follow it. I learned that modern American readers aren’t interested in that. I learned a number of valuable lessons at Clarion."

William Shunn also mentions his time at Clarion in this advice for beginning writers.
Jan. 8th, 2010 02:08 am (UTC)
Just browsed about and found Shunn also has these memoir excerpts about his time at Clarion.

Also, the Clarion Ex Machina site he links to isn't up anymore, but someone put together this collection of people's blogs on their experiences there.

Jan. 8th, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
I would give anything to be able to take that Clarion writing workshop! I've nursing a fantasy series for about three years and it would help me I'm sure, not to mention that it's in my favorite city! However, I do not have an extra $5,000 lying around. Argh!
Jan. 8th, 2010 01:05 am (UTC)
Clarion scholarships
There are scholarships available for qualified applicants:

Jan. 8th, 2010 03:16 am (UTC)
Re: Clarion scholarships
Thank you! I'll definitely look into this! It would be such a wonderful opportunity. I'm such a huge fan of yours! Like everyone else here, haha :)

Edited at 2010-01-08 03:17 am (UTC)
Jan. 8th, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)
$5K for Clarion.

Jan. 8th, 2010 01:04 am (UTC)
Clarion scholarships
There are scholarships available for those who cannot afford the tuition:

Jan. 8th, 2010 08:30 am (UTC)
Re: Clarion scholarships
So kind, thank you! I'm going to apply and see what happens.
Jan. 8th, 2010 12:33 am (UTC)
And I love you, GRR, but Delany is also teaching, and that's so amazing.

I'm going to go cry now.
Jan. 8th, 2010 05:42 am (UTC)
Some cheaper options, and some more expensive ones
These don't have the GRRM special sauce like Clarion, however:

Viable Paradise, http://www.sff.net/Paradise/, with Theresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Elizabeth Bear

and Clarion West in Seattle: http://www.clarionwest.org/ There used to be a Clarion in Mi, but I can't find it on the web.

Also, for those who don't have $5:

Nalo Hopkinson does email mentorships:

and the Online Writer's Workshop has writer's critting each other, and pros that pick out and crit random manuscripts:

Also, Critters.org-free crits from other writers and Forward Motion is a good writer's community:


Plus, Holly Lisle does online workshops and stuff:


I hope all these links don't get me dropped in spam. Mr. Martin, I hope all these links are not offensive to you.

And I hope that maybe the linkspam will help someone. =)
Jan. 9th, 2010 07:02 am (UTC)
Re: Some cheaper options, and some more expensive ones
The Clarion in Michigan is the Clarion that moved to San Diego.
Jan. 8th, 2010 09:23 am (UTC)
Writing Excuses
For new writers, authors Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy and SF author who is finishing the wheel of time series), Howard Taylor (Cartoonist) and Dan Wells (Horror Novelist) have a great podcast called writing excuses that has very good advice, is fun to listen to even if you're just a reader too. It won a Parsec award already.

George, I'm sure they'd love to have you as a guest author. The URL is: www.writingexcuses.com.

I've been a long time follower of this blog and hope Dance is going well. I can't wait to read it.
Jan. 8th, 2010 09:58 am (UTC)
Shh! Don't give it away! It'll be 25 people to one place at Clarion at this rate.

Jan. 8th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
Not sure that I qualify as a "journeyman," but for good or ill Walter Jon has accepted my application to Taos Toolbox. I'm filled with anticipation and a modicum of trepidation.
Jan. 8th, 2010 02:04 pm (UTC)
Writer Workshops
I was looking on the Clarion site and, unfortunately, my 18th bday is after the start date. I was just wondering if they allow minors at all. I was also wondering if anyone knew any good and affordable teen workshops along teh same lines as Clarion. Thanks
Jan. 22nd, 2010 01:44 am (UTC)
Re: Writer Workshops
Alas you need to turn 18 before the first day of class http://clarion.ucsd.edu/appfaq.html#minors
Jan. 8th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC)
Options for Full-Time Workers
My biggest issue with workshops is that every author I've spoken with tells new writers, "Don't quit your day job" and but most workshops seem to be full-time for 4-6 weeks, which precludes people who aren't teachers or college faculty from attending.

Only a handful are as short as a week, which is still a lot of vacation time for someone with family commitments. "Sorry, honey, we can't spend the holidays with your folks because I used my vacation for that writers' conference" puts a strain on even the most suppportive partner.

That said, Jeff Carver and Craig Shaw Gardener run the Ultimate ST Writers Workshop (http://www.starrigger.net/workshop.htm) in Boston most years that meets one night a week and provides a great flexible, low-cost option for Boston residents.
Jan. 8th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
Dear aspiring writers, from a reader.
I've had two friends who played basketball exceptionally well. One went to college and played in the tournament. He then went to Finland to play pro-ball. With that exposure he played in Poland and Israel, but he broke his wrist, came home, got a job and married his college sweetheart.

The other went to community college, played pickup games and in local street ball tournaments. He chose not to travel or use his resources to attend the many good camps. And then he blew his knee out. The highlight of his basketball life was taking a younger Anthony Mason to task on the playgrounds.

I've noted that many of you view this workshop wistfully. If you feel that you are a writer and this workshop is truly important to your development, then please, please make the personal commitment to attend such a workshop in the future. Don't do it for me and the other readers. Do it for you. Or, do not. You can always talk about the book you are working on.

Jan. 9th, 2010 07:25 am (UTC)
Getting it Done
For those who can't get away for a six-week workshop, I humbly point out that Toolbox is only two weeks, and that most people can manage that.

Clarion is a short-story workshop for the most part. Toolbox is more about the novels.

That said, Nycfalcon is absolutely right. This kind of commitment is only a shadow of the kind of commitment necessary to turn yourself into a writer. Workshops are far less intimidating than trying to go it alone: it's tough, but at a workshop you've got supportive staff, you'll make very close friends, you'll make connections that may last your whole life.

It's something you should do for yourself.

The gates are open, and you can walk through them or not. Make the choice that won't leave you kicking yourself twenty years down the road.
Jan. 8th, 2010 07:48 pm (UTC)
Clarion and Genre
I was just wondering if you knew exactly how Clarion defines the Fanstasy/Sci Fi genre. I'm considering applying and trying to narrow down which of my stories are both my best work and a good genre fit. I've been poking around on the site and so far haven't come up with something that sets out guidelines as to what does and does not count. The fantasy genre can be pretty broad, I know, but I also don't want to assume that it's fantasy just because I think it is.

Jan. 9th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Clarion and Genre
@Purpleivy: I've taught at both Clarions in the US, and they pretty much just want you to send your strongest fiction writing in, whatever the genre. If you're convinced it's not SF/F, you could always point that out in your application letter.
Jan. 22nd, 2010 01:50 am (UTC)
Re: Clarion and Genre
One of the wonderful things about Clarion last year was the diversity of people. We had high literary writers, mad pop culture maniacs, fantasy, steampunk, experimental, interstitial, hard sf and more.

One of the short stories I got into Clarion with was general fiction, set in contemporary Australia about five people going to a funeral!
Jan. 8th, 2010 09:47 pm (UTC)
Fingers crossed
Well, I've been working on my submissions since about September and finally applied and have sent them in. Waiting until March to hear if I'm accepted is going to be pure torture. Wish me luck...
Jan. 9th, 2010 02:19 am (UTC)
Oh man! I would so love to do this, but having a newborn is my full time job right now :) Maybe someday...
Jan. 9th, 2010 06:38 am (UTC)
Dear Mr. Martin,

I know that your blog, really isn’t the venue for this kind of message but as internet incapable as I am, I don’t know where to look to find your fan-email address. (I assure you, I’ll stay on topic here though.) I just wanted to say that I’ll be applying to Clarion this year—partially because of how good I’ve heard the program is—but let’s face it—mostly because you mentioned that you’d be one of the instructors this year.

I hope to get in, but knowing the odds against me, I’m writing this to thank you now. For a long time I had considered myself and excellent (though yet unpublished) fiction writer. This past summer I was rereading an early chapter from a novel that I’m trying to write and I realized how terrible my writing really was. It hit me pretty hard. I realized I had to overhaul my entire writing style if I wanted to fix it. And I despaired. Already a big fan of yours, I started reading Dreamsongs. I studied what you did and my writing got better. Then you mentioned you’d be teaching at Clarion. I had a couple of Sci-fi stories in storage somewhere but they weren’t my best (and even my best wasn’t all that great) so I wrote some new ones. I was (and am) determined to give myself the best possible chance to get into program so I made a tremendous effort to up my game. And I did!

So, as I said, I’m writing this in case I don’t get to tell you in person: Reading your work made mine better, and for a chance to study under you, I improved my writing. Thank you sir, for that, and for the hours of enchantment I’ve found in your works.
Jan. 9th, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
I would cry to have you and Delia Sherman tell me my writing sucked.
It would be the good tears.
Jan. 13th, 2010 01:29 am (UTC)
I understand you don't do mentoring, editing, assessments, etc. Are you, however, available for being a nemesis?
Jan. 25th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
Mr. Martin,

I don't mean to interrupt your football watching but I am curious, what other avenues exist for people who don't make the cut in the estimation of the Clarion administrators? What alternative exists for people who are unable to afford the tuition?

Good day to you.
Jan. 25th, 2010 07:50 pm (UTC)
There are scholarships for those who cannot afford the tuition.

For those who are not accepted... well, there are other programs built around similar lines, like Clarion West and Odyssey... and you can't always apply again next year. Not everyone gets in first time.
( 44 comments — Leave a comment )


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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