This is part of my preparation for those intense 6 weeks of workshopping, besides throwing stuff into my suitcase. I thought it would be a good idea to assess what I want to get out of the workshop before I go, so I can track my progress and look back to see if I had accomplished what I set out to do. I heard that Clarion is a great place to experiment and try new things, so I definitely kept that in mind while coming up with goals to achieve.
–Be more comfortable with writing sci-fi.
Like I mentioned in my previous post, Getting Into Both Clarions, I count the number of sci-fi I’ve written on one hand. It’s ironic, considering my field of study and future career is in medicine, where I’m surrounded by the concepts and applications of biology, chemistry, and the occasional physics. I guess that’s why I use fantasy as a form of escape and reprieve from the real world. On the other hand, many of my sci-fi ideas never take off beyond the brainstorming stage. Too often I get caught up in the worry of being scientifically inaccurate, and getting intimidated by all the research I have to do in order to portray that accuracy. I want to get over that hurdle so I can broaden not only market options, but my range and imagination. I really would like to write good robot, AI, and alien stories, but I don’t know how. That’s why I look forward to having Neil Clarke as the Week 5 instructor and Ted Chiang as the Week 6 instructor. What better way to learn about how to write more sci-fi than from the editor of Clarkesworld and an author of award-winning sci-fi stories?
–Be more comfortable with writing tighter stories.
I’m one of those writers who tend to write long. My short stories often bloat past the 7500-word boundary to edge into novelette and novella territory. I’m jealous of people who can effortlessly churn out flash. I’ve only ever written three, and that was hard AF. I’ve actually cried tears of exertion while trying to write one. I want to learn how to write shorter stories and work with slimmer ideas, which is why I’m excited to have Tina Connolly and Caroline Yoachim as Week 3 instructors. They have an impressive list of professional publications, many of which are flash stories. I’d love to pick up any insights and techniques they might have to help me be more comfortable with writing smaller and tighter.
–Improve eye for areas that need revision.
This is where the value of critiques come in. Most of the time I’m unaware of exactly where and how I need to fix something. I want to hone my intuition and anticipate what my classmates would say, and see if my assessment lines up with theirs. If I become more on point as the six weeks go by, then I consider that a goal achieved.
I’m at the point in my life where I’m trying to establish a career and find my own footing in society. My ultimate goal in life is to practice medicine while continuing to write. While I have no intentions of bailing out of the medical field, the intensity and rigor of the profession I chose keeps me from writing as frequently and freely as I would like. I hope to find classmates who are at the same point in life as I am, or have instructors who have had that experience and have advice they could give me on how to juggle a writing career and an unrelated day job.
–Write with faith.
This one needs some more elaboration than the others. To say that JRR Tolkien is one of my favorite authors and has hugely influenced my love for reading, writing, and the fantasy genre is nothing new. Not original at all. You’re probably heard it from many other writers. Maybe you’re yawning right now. However, I’m going out on a limb to say that his influence on me goes beyond the typical SFF writer because I am also a practicing Catholic. And as a Catholic, I appreciate that a spiritual, distinctly Christian core binds Tolkien’s work together. Despite that, fans of The Lord of the Rings comprise of people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds (including lack of). Many non-Christians can find significance, merit, and meaning in The Lord of The Rings. I think that’s because rather than beating you over the head with a Bible, Tolkien opts for the subtle undercurrent that permeates every aspect of his fictional Middle-Earth universe. In addition to his Catholic faith, Tolkien weaves in pagan ideology, his experience from fighting in World War I, and his own academic background and passion in linguistics. That unique combination makes for great worldbuilding and storytelling (in my opinion). I used Tolkien as the primary example, but CS Lewis and Dante are other writers I admire, and who combined Christian and pagan elements in their work.
So what does this have to do with me? I try to write like that. No, I’m not delusional enough to think that I’ll be “the next Tolkien.” But I find his deeply spiritual approach to writing The Lord of the Rings something worth learning from and emulating. I love reading and writing about the endurance of morality and humanity in a world full of evil and ugliness, and triumph over struggle, tragedy, and sorrow. I adore dark-but-not-hopeless narratives. I try to impart that in most, if not all, of the stories I write. This is probably my most ambitious goal to undertake, but also my most important one. I don’t write like a missionary. I try not to, anyway. I don’t aim to preach or convert whoever reads my stuff. I just want to reach into the reader’s heart and stir it and wring it a little. If I can do that, then I consider it a job well done.
6 weeks sequestered from the outside world, sharing living space with 17 strangers, and engaging in a regimen of commitment and discipline…Some people would jokingly compare Clarion to a reality TV show. I liken it to a spiritual retreat. Most of that time will be spent looking deeply into myself as I put my creativity and imagination to the test. I look forward to Clarion removing me from the routine of my life, so I have a place and the time to engage in both spiritual and creative contemplation.