Often described as both a magical and intensive experience, the Clarion Writers’ Workshop is a remarkable opportunity for aspiring writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Lara Donnelly, a Wright State alumna with a degree in English concentrated in creative writing, is participating in the celebrated sci-fi workshop.
Nationally renowned for molding its students into the future of speculative fiction, Clarion is a six-week summer program hosted by University of California, San Diego.
Widely considered to be a proving ground, Clarion has high standards for its applicants and even higher expectations for its students. “It’s like bootcamp for speculative fiction writers,” said Donnelly. “But the drill sergeants are nice.”
Donnelly, who graduated in June with dreams of pursuing a career in fiction writing, was overjoyed when she learned of her acceptance into this exclusive workshop. Hundreds of writers from all over the country of varying ages and literary backgrounds apply to Clarion each year. Only 18 are accepted.
“I received an early acceptance to Clarion in mid-March and had to keep quiet about it for two weeks, until my classmates had been notified. You can imagine how difficult that was,” Donnelly said. “When I got the email, I was in my cubicle at work. I shot out of my chair, zoomed around the office, and then had to keep mum about it with everyone but family and very close friends.”
According to Donnelly, the first week of Clarion was a gradual easing into the workshop: a way to acclimate the writers to UC San Diego’s beautiful, but unfamiliar, campus and to build camaraderie among them.
“Weeks two and three made it clear that this really was going to be the intense experience it was rumored to be,” Donnelly said.
Each day at Clarion is filled with an rigorous workload. When students are not in workshops or collaborating with other students or instructors, they are expected to spend the majority of their day by themselves, writing. Rather than basking in the summer rays at the neighboring beach, the typical Clarion student will most likely be found in their living space, typing away on a laptop or poring over a printout of a story.
Although Donnelly isn’t spending as much time on the beach as she would like, the aspiring writer still manages to get the creative juices pumping through other means. “What is helping my creativity most of all is being surrounded by the other talented, enthusiastic writers,” she said. “These people are hopefully the future of genre fiction, and we’re connected now.”
The Clarion instructors are among the most revered writers and editors of the speculative fiction genre. They endow each student with an abundance of advice, encouragement, and most importantly, constructive critique. Though some may find themselves discouraged by the instructors’ rigorous curriculum, Donnelly says she has been electrified by the challenge.
Anything is possible at Clarion: even the fabled prospect of publication. “The high incidence of publication at Clarion happens because the writers here are just that good and because they are constantly creating new work and submitting it,” Donnelly explains. “Some of the students here have already been published in fiction and non-fiction markets.”
The instructors, along with Donnelly’s fellow students, have provided her with a great deal of support and inspiration—the likes of which most writers dream. In fact, Donnelly predicts that the networking and the memories she will have created with her fellow students are the most valuable things Clarion will have given her.
Upon her return to Ohio, Donnelly plans to finish her urban fantasy novel and begin submitting it to agents. “Maybe my novel will get snapped up right away and shoot onto the bestseller list,” said Donnelly. “I’m not betting my life on it, but it sure would be nice.”
For those who desire to make a career out of speculative writing, the Clarion Writers’ Workshop is a useful stepping stone on the path to literary success. For Donnelly, being accepted and the prospect of finishing the workshop will be remarkable affirmations. “If I can get in, survive, and graduate from Clarion with new stories and new friends, I can do anything,” she said.