One of the most surprising things I discovered at the Clarion West writers workshop was what it lacked: snotty writers who thought they could do no wrong.
Anyone who has spent time in a writing group has met people like this, but they were notably absent from our group. On several occasions I tried to pry the secret of the selection process out of the workshop's leaders. How had they managed to pick a group of people who were universally dedicated to improving their own work, who supported the experimentation and growth of others, and who received critique and feedback with openness and grace? Where were the arguers, the defensive whiners, the self-appointed geniuses throwing their literary pearls before swine?
In the absence of preening jerks, our critique sessions unfolded in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Disagreements were not uncommon, but they were devoid of rancor. I trusted the group in a way I had never experienced before. I wrote outside my comfort zone and was rewarded with supportive but unvarnished feedback to help me write better.
In an effort to help future Clarion West groups enjoy the same utopian experience, and with the caveat that I am not associated with Clarion West leadership and this is not an official declaration, I offer this set of guidelines.
Do not bother attending Clarion West if:
- You are looking for an opportunity to be praised, lauded by your amazed peers, or appointed as the Chosen One.
- You would prefer to defend the perfection of your prose and your choices as an author, rather than accept professional feedback.
- You feel better about your own work when you denigrate that of other people.
- You are unwilling to listen to the insights and perspectives of people different from yourself.
- Other people tend to describe you as "poisonous," "toxic," "a narcissistic asshole," or other terms typically applied to hazardous materials or psychopaths.