Table of Contents
What is the Clarion West Six-Week Summer Workshop?
Every summer, Clarion West holds an intensive residential six-week workshop in Seattle, geared to help you prepare for a professional career as a writer of speculative fiction. Each workshop is limited to 18 students, and each week features a different instructor (or team of instructors), a highly regarded author or editor offering their unique perspective on the field. Short fiction is the workshop’s focus, with an emphasis on speculative fiction. Come prepared to write several new stories, to experiment and take artistic risks, and to give and receive constructive criticism. Critiquing styles allow for feedback from all your classmates and the instructor. You’ll work closely with instructors in group critiques of newly written stories, discussions about writing techniques or professional concerns, and individual or small-group conferences. And you’ll be a part of Seattle’s vibrant speculative fiction community. You’ll come away with essential tools for improving your writing as well as a set of friendships and professional contacts that can last a lifetime.
What is speculative fiction?
Speculative fiction, often described as science fiction, fantasy, and horror, invites readers to imagine possibilities that challenge and expand their understanding of the world. There are as many definitions of speculative fiction as there are authors working under its broad umbrella.
Am I ready for Clarion West?
We encourage you to apply when you feel ready, which is sometime after you’ve slugged it out on your own for a while but before you’re a seasoned professional. Maybe you know there’s something wrong with your work but don’t quite know what it is, exactly. Or maybe you do know what your weaknesses are and need help correcting them. Maybe you just want to improve your writing.
However, if you are not ready to hear about what might need improvement in your fiction, or if you’re not in a good headspace to have your writing skills challenged, Clarion West may not be the best fit for you. You will need to be open to change and to learning, and willing to experiment and possibly fail.
Almost all our students worry sometimes that they don’t belong or aren’t skilled enough writers to have earned their places (though worrying about this is not required). If you are offered a place, you have earned it.
Students are speculative fiction writers, both published and unpublished, who want to speed up their development as writers by learning their strengths and how to capitalize on them, learning their weaknesses and how to manage them, and developing professional connections within the field.
Clarion West’s students have ranged in age from 21 to 70. Unfortunately, for insurance reasons, students younger than 21 may not attend. We have no minimum education requirements for admission: our students have included those with no post-high school education to those with PhDs.
Approximately a third of Clarion West’s students each year identify as people of color, and many identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ communities.
Students must be able to speak and write in English, however we welcome students from outside the United States, and students have attended from all over the world.
We aim to accommodate all writers who feel that they are a good fit for the rigors of the workshop. There are classroom breaks and writing time built into the workshop, however you should read through testimonials from past participants. The section about time, energy, workload, and self-care in Deciding Whether to Attend Clarion West, for Disabled Writers by Noe Bartmess (CW ’16) may be especially helpful.
Clarion West has made a commitment to holding the workshop in ADA accessible spaces, accommodating writers with hearing and sight impairments, and welcoming service animals required for disability assistance. Read more about the new workshop location below.
Clarion West students are parents, grandparents, working class people, people with GEDs, veterans, immigrants, expats. There is no mold for who attends our workshop. However, this workshop is not necessarily a good fit for everyone. If you have specific questions after reading through the description of the workshop environment, please check with our staff!
If you need financial assistance to attend, please let us know by completing the scholarship application portion of the online application. If you are selected as a student, we will do our best to make it possible for you to attend. If you have further questions or concerns about scholarships, see the scholarship information below.
The application process
How do I apply?
Go to our application page to fill out our online application form.
If you cannot use the online application form, please contact email@example.com by January 10, and we will send you an application form and instructions on applying by mail. We recommend you apply as early as possible to provide our team with more time to review and confirm applicants.
The application takes 30–60 minutes to complete and does not need to be completed all in one session — you can save your application and come back to it at a later time.
When is the application deadline?
Applications are open from December 1 through February 10, 2022. Early applicants, applying through the end of January, receive a significant discount on the application fee.
Early application discounts close at 11:59pm on January 31, 2022.
Applications close at 11:59pm on February 10, 2022. By that, we mean that 12:00 AM Pacific time on February 11 is too late.
May I have an extension and send my application in late?
Do you accept students from other countries?
Yes, as long as they are proficient in speaking and writing in English. We’ve had students from Canada, the U.K., Switzerland, France, Australia, Nigeria, China, the Netherlands, Vietnam, New Zealand, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere. Students from other countries are also eligible to apply for our scholarship assistance.
Do you set age limits for students you accept?
We’ve had students as young as 21 and as old as 70. Unfortunately, for insurance reasons, we currently cannot accept students who will not be at least 21 by the starting date of the workshop.
Options for writers younger than this are the Alpha Writers Workshop and Shared Worlds, designed specifically for young people interested in writing speculative fiction. (Note: Neither workshop is affiliated with Clarion West, but we’ve heard good things about them.)
Do you require any previous education?
What if I applied last year and didn't get in?
What materials do I need to apply?
A sample of your work. In a single document, you may submit up to two short stories of up to 6,000 words each, or a longer story of up to 10,000 words, or a novel excerpt of up to 10,000 words with a synopsis of up to three pages. Please follow proper manuscript format. Your manuscript should be formatted in 12-point Courier font and double-spaced, with one-inch margins. It should not exceed the word limit, even if it includes a synopsis. Set your margins flush left and do not justify the text. We prefer PDF documents but also accept .doc, .docx, and .rtf files. Do not upload ODF files.
You’ll be asked to provide short answers to the following questions:
- Why do you want to attend Clarion West now? What are your goals for the workshop?
- Tell us where you feel you are in your career/writing practice, and your experience critiquing or being critiqued by others (if you have any).
- What skills or attributes as a reader, critical thinker, or classmate, or life experiences/perspectives, will you offer your workshop peers?
- Why do you write, and what does “success” as a writer look like to you?
- Is there anything in particular that you’d like your instructors and/or peers to know about you?
Your contact information valid through June: your phone number, email address, and mailing address.
If you plan on applying for a scholarship, you’ll need some personal and financial information on hand to fill out the online form. We need information about your income, your recurring household expenses, your anticipated workshop expenses, and a few other things. We recommend downloading our paper scholarship form and using it as a worksheet.
Your writing sample
What about my writing sample? What kind of work should I submit? Must it be speculative? Must it be short fiction?
You should submit your best fiction writing. Period. It’s to your advantage to submit short fiction so our readers can see that you can end a story as well as begin one, but our readers don’t care what genre you’re writing in. Novel portions are fine as long as you include a synopsis (and yes, the synopsis does count toward the 10,000-word limit).
Can I send more than two stories? A short story and a novel excerpt + synopsis? How about a few flash pieces?
If I send part of a novel, what part should I send?
What do you mean by a synopsis?
Can I send a previously published story? A story accepted but not published?
How about a screenplay?
How about a children’s novel or picture book script?
How about fan fiction?
Is it okay if my writing sample is longer than the word limits or doesn’t follow standard manuscript format for typeface and margins, et al.?
No. There are so many compelling reasons for this that they are too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say: just don’t do it. Your application is better served by showing us how creatively you write rather than how creatively you interpret the application guidelines. If you have questions about standard manuscript format, see William Shunn’s reference document and Vonda McIntyre’s manuscript preparation guide.
What should I name my submission file?
How many files should I prepare?
What if I sent the wrong file?
Do letters of recommendation help me get in?
What if there is information that would be helpful for you to know that isn’t covered on the scholarship application?
What are the fees? How do I pay?
Clarion West charges a nonrefundable application fee of $35 (USD), which is payable via PayPal at the time of your application. The fee increases to $60 for applications received after January 31. (Note for applicants in Singapore: please contact us about alternate methods of payment.)
Can you accept the application fee in the currency of my home country?
Can I pay the full tuition early to reserve my place? Can I be on your waitlist?
Can a friend pay for me? Can I pay under a name that’s different from the name on my application?
When you apply, there’s a field on the application form for you to put the email address or name that the PayPal payment will come from. If someone else is paying your fee, then once you’ve submitted your application, send them a link to the confirmation page.
The confirmation page will ask for information about who is paying and who the fee is being paid for. Please make sure you or the person paying writes your name in the applicant field and that they use the same name you used on your application. This is very important so we can match your application with payment and confirm that it’s completed and ready to send to readers.
Who should I contact if I need help with the application process?
If you have any questions about the application process or if you encounter trouble submitting your application, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When will I hear back?
What's Clarion West like?
During Clarion West, 18 students live together in one building for six weeks in June and July and critique each other’s weekly submissions. Generally, each student writes one piece per week, typically short story length. There are other events as well, like parties in the broader Seattle speculative fiction community and weekly readings given by instructors.
Each week is taught by a different instructor who is a prominent editor or writer in the field. Classes run weekdays 9am–12 pm; during afternoons and evenings, students read and critique pieces for the following day, write their own piece for that week, and (optionally) socialize or attend other events.
Classes and Critiquing
Students critique 3–4 submissions each day, 5 days a week Monday–Friday. At the start of the workshop, each student signs up for a regular day each week to submit their story by 9 pm. It will be distributed on paper and electronically at the end of the following day’s class. The rest of the class prepares two-minute verbal critiques by 9am the day after that. (For example, submissions turned in Monday evening by 9 pm are distributed Tuesday at the end of class and critiqued on Wednesday). Sunday nights involve a short house meeting and a brief introduction to that week’s instructor.
General workshop methods follow the outline here, but see our workshop method information to learn more about how some of these formats may differ from class to class and how you have a say in how your stories are critiqued.
On weekday mornings from 9 am–12 pm, students sit around a large table and give a two-minute verbal critique for each submission. It’s okay to read from notes. Afterward, the instructor comments, then the submitter can respond. Students may opt to additionally hand over written comments or email their comments to the submitter after class.
Critiques take about 45 minutes per piece. There is usually a 5–10 minute break halfway through class, though you can leave to use the restroom when needed. The instructor sometimes gives a short lecture or assigned reading. The first week may have a different format, depending on the instructor (such as multiple short assignments, or readings).
Snacks, water, coffee, tea, soda, etc. are allowed in the classroom. We ask students to keep phones on silent and to use laptops only if needed while giving or receiving a critique. Instructors have leeway to make changes to classroom policy, unless a student has requested an accommodation.
Classes in virtual workshops
Virtual workshops take place in a Zoom classroom. Class will likely still meet from 9 am–12 pm Pacific time but will take regular 10-minute breaks each hour. During class, students are expected to mute their mics when not actively speaking to avoid disruption. We prefer that students keep their cameras on while actively discussing a story, but students may turn cameras off when needed at their discretion.
Online workshops may have a smaller group of students (likely 15) to better accommodate the virtual format.
Writing and submitting
Diversity and Inclusion: The Workshop Culture and Critique Methods
In 2020, Clarion West began to examine the way we run our six-week workshop in terms of inclusivity and representation. We saw discussion in the broader writing community around traditional workshops, and how these can often stifle marginalized voices or force underrepresented writers into a box.
In Fall 2020, we surveyed alumni of the six-week workshop on their experiences with regards to safety, inclusion, and access. We convened a working committee of alumni and six-week instructors to design and test new models in experiential sessions.
This process is ongoing. Read more about our evolving workshop culture.
Clarion West is dedicated to training our staff, instructors, and students to utilize a variety of methods that best meet the needs of each class. Some of the more significant changes to our process include:
- Providing a trained facilitator in every class session who is present to advocate for all participants and help each new instructor get to know their class and their critique goals better;
- Providing a variety of critique options for the group to decide what will work best for their unique needs. Every group is different, and we want to recognize this by providing the time and space for each group to develop their own rules;
- Allowing greater agency for authors to determine their critique goals and to set their own limits;
- Encouraging the use of an author’s letter or introduction to each story, allowing the author’s needs to frame the response; and
- Providing time during a critique for authors to respond to comments or pose additional questions of their own. Sometimes this will be in a format different than what some participants may be used to.
We will continue to review our workshop models and student experiences each year to inform our style and format as we move ahead.
Other optional activities
Weekly public readings or conversations by that week’s instructor. Public events are held in Greater Seattle-area venues, typically within a 20-30-minute drive. Students can sign up to be driven to most locations (attendance is strongly encouraged).
Each week students will be invited to other public events, parties, and meetups with members of the Seattle speculative fiction community. Attendance at these events is optional, but many recommend the opportunity to blow off steam and broaden your network. Clarion West staff and volunteers try to make safety our number one priority at any off-site event, and safety considerations, ride sharing, and information about the area are provided for these events.
A few other activities include:
- Hour-long weekly visits by “muses” (writers, editors, agents).
- Students often attend the Locus Awards, held in downtown Seattle.
- Some years, students coordinate group Skype or Zoom meetings with writers, agents, and editors.
- Students sometimes organize recreational trips (hikes, sightseeing, swimming, etc.).
There are also plenty of informal socialization opportunities (hanging out, watching TV or movies, playing games).
Activities in virtual workshops
The virtual workshop still has lots of opportunities for events and other social activities!
- Weekly conversations with that week’s instructor or visiting “muses” (writers, editors, agents).
- Weekly parties held over Zoom, Gather.Town, or other social apps.
- Additional activities including sprint sessions, crafting sessions, social games (perhaps even an escape room!).
As with the in-person workshop, there will be many informal socialization opportunities. While these may require a little more advance planning, students have still organized group movie screenings and other social gatherings.
How stressful is it, really?
Clarion West is intense, and writing and critiquing can be emotionally demanding, especially if the subject matter deals with personal issues. At any point in the workshop, students can request content warnings be added to stories. Requests can be submitted anonymously to workshop staff.
One or more workshop staff members will always be in the classroom on any class day. Staff are often on the workshop premises into the early afternoons on weekdays, and they are generally on-call throughout the six weeks for problems or emergencies. There is time each week on Sundays for the class to discuss any housekeeping issues, but staff can also offer support at any time throughout the workshop. Sometimes all you need is a listening ear after some criticism on a story — we’re available for private conversations anytime you need us.
Having a self-care plan is also a good idea. Don’t forget to continue daily practices like exercise, naps, meditation, or phoning a friend. If these are part of your day-to-day stress relief, don’t abandon them at the workshop!
Most writers worry that they’re not good enough or have other writing-related insecurities. We try to make Clarion West a safe place to be open about worries regarding your writing and career, and instructors and guest muses often talk about common worries and insecurities (and especially “imposter syndrome”!).
When critiquing, students are asked to “help build” each other’s work, rather than searching for its flaws. This doesn’t mean ignoring where a story needs work, but the first focus is on understanding the author’s goal for their work and how to help the story achieve it. Critiques start with what’s positive about the piece and address questions or concerns posed by the author in their author’s letter. In our efforts to update the workshop culture at Clarion West, we will continue examining what critiques our students find to be the most helpful, and what methods produce the most positive experience.
You can read more about people’s experiences at Clarion West (and Clarion UCSD, its sister workshop) at a site maintained by former Clarion student Liz Argall.
Resources in virtual workshops
I’m introverted. How social will I have to be? / I’m extroverted. Will there be social opportunities?
You’ll have plenty of social opportunities, but you’re not required to be social. We encourage you to spend time with your classmates, but you will also have plenty of opportunities for alone time. Typically classes are able to “introduce” themselves through an email listserv organized by staff before the workshop begins, so by the time Week 1 rolls around, you’re no longer complete strangers.
You also don’t need to get in your socialization at the workshop — in fact, we’d say it’s pretty impossible to get your fill of the wonderful people you’ll meet! We hope you’ll continue building relationships with your class after the workshop through mailing lists, private chat, social media, and/or video chat. Class members may also meet up at conventions or plan reunions. (Clarion West often hosts a gathering for alumni at a selected con each year!)
Do you have an anti-harassment policy?
What is your confidentiality policy?
Practicalities: Money, food, and accommodations
How much does Clarion West cost?
The total cost to attend the workshop is $4800; this covers tuition, room, and partial board (light, self-serve breakfast options are provided, and lunch is provided Monday-Friday and dinner is provided Monday–Thursday). All students stay in the workshop residence. Wireless Internet access is free.
For those who need tuition assistance: A number of full and partial scholarships are available and are usually enough to keep tuition/room/board from being the determining factor. There are also travel assistance funds available. You apply for scholarship support when you apply for the workshop. Requesting scholarship support does not affect your chances of being accepted to the workshop.
We also recommend students budget about $800 for additional expenses (food, books, optional outings, class t-shirts(!), and no more than $5/week to contribute to a class gift for that week’s instructor).
Seattle and the surrounding area offer excellent outdoor and tourist activities. You may want to budget for visits to attractions such as the Locus Awards, the Seattle Zoo, the Seattle Museum of Pop Culture, and endless trails and water activities. Although the campus is served by public transportation, we recommend you bring your personal vehicle if you can. Clarion West staff and volunteers will also help coordinate rides.
Campus parking permits can be purchased at an additional charge. Internet access will be provided at no charge. You will also need to arrange for travel to and from Seattle, and bring a laptop. Some students have run crowdfunding campaigns to cover expenses.
Do you offer scholarships?
Clarion West is dedicated to promoting new voices in speculative fiction and offers a generous amount of scholarship support, made possible by our passionate and dedicated community. All students are eligible for scholarships. You can apply for a scholarship when you apply for the workshop on this site, or request a scholarship form via email, a phone call, or letter, or print one out from our website. Scholarships are allocated primarily based on need. Our scholarship funds include some assistance for disabled students.
Applications and scholarships are open to international as well as US-based applicants, and there are some travel assistance funds now available to students who need additional support.
Do I have to stay in the residence?
Yes. Clarion West rents out rooms for the students and is charged rent based on there being 18 students in the workshop. We’re a nonprofit organization and can’t afford to pay rent for students who live off-site.
Over 35 years of experience have taught us that the residential program is most effective when all students are on-site and have few outside distractions. If you are living off-site, you will not only miss out on the opportunity to connect with your fellow students, but you are much more likely to be distracted, which can also affect the morale of the entire class.
Can I attend while working full- or part-time?
Trying to work full-time or part-time, even telecommuting with flexible hours, would make it very hard to participate, and we do not recommend it.
Many students take breaks from their work or school or are in transition during the period of the workshop.
Can partners visit? If I live locally, can I go home?
What are the food options?
We provide lunch Monday-Friday and dinner Monday–Thursday. We ask about specific food needs ahead of time (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, etc.).
We also supply snacks and condiments, along with other basics like coffee, tea, cereal, milk varieties, bread, etc. Students often buy and share other snacks and drinks.
What are the facilities and area like? Are they accessible?
Participants will stay together in one accessible building adjacent to Highline Community College with both stairs and a ramp to enter. The multi-story building has two elevators to all floors. Student apartments have a common area furnished with a couch, end table, and TV. Kitchens include a refrigerator, microwave, four-burner stove, an oven, and a dishwasher. Student bedrooms include a twin bed, desk and chair, closet, and drawer storage. Bathrooms have bathtubs with showerheads. Each participant has a private bedroom in a four bedroom apartment with two full bathrooms.
Accessible apartments have lower kitchen counters with knee clearance at the sink and workspace, bed frames with an adjustable height down to 14 inches, and wider door frames at the accessible bedroom and bathroom. The accessible bathroom is larger to provide turning space, has a lower sink with knee clearance, has grab bars at the toilet and bathtub, and the bathtub has a built-in removable seat and a hand shower. Accessible apartments are also equipped with visible alarms and a doorbell.
Laundry facilities are accessible with side-by-side washers and dryers.
The housing is located about a quarter of a mile from the classroom, and students will need to cross paved sidewalks and a parking lot.
The building is not air-conditioned, and the west side will receive sun most of the afternoon and evening. Average July daytime temperature for Seattle is 65F/18C, although sometimes there are hotter stretches (one year’s workshop had several days that hit 100F/38C). Each apartment has a ceiling fan in the common room, and the workshop loans out small fans to individual students as well. CW has one portable air conditioning unit dedicated to students and may be borrowed as needed, however, availability is limited to health requirements.
There is a printer in the building.
Students typically work at a table, padded armchair, or couch in the common areas, or at a coffee shop or local library, or a folding table in their rooms. It is not difficult to find a quiet place to work.
The neighborhood itself is quiet and residential. East-facing bedrooms may introduce some traffic noise, so if you are a light sleeper, sleeping with a fan or a white noise machine might be recommended.
The local area has sidewalks and is fairly flat. The small town of Des Moines and Des Moines Beach is a short 5-minute car ride or 10-minute bus ride from campus. There is a steep grade for those interested in walking or biking. The building is a 15-minute walk/under 5-minute drive from grocery stores, and a 10-minute walk from a pharmacy. Nearby restaurants include a variety of offerings. Rides to pick up groceries and other goods can be arranged with staff members.
Students who need parking should contact email@example.com prior to the workshop and may cost an additional fee.
How do students handle healthcare?
We provide a list of suggested local providers and hospitals, including some who offer services on a sliding scale based on your financial means.
Students with US healthcare plans will need to confirm what their plan covers locally (for example, a plan may cover care fully, partially, or not at all, or for some providers but not others; it may require you to pay up front and file for reimbursement later). Plans may or may not cover refills out of the students’ home area. Some healthcare plans offer three-month mail-order refills for many medications.
Some international students may have access to travel insurance that includes healthcare through their home countries or through credit cards, or may have access to commercial travel insurance. We highly recommend you purchase travel insurance, as healthcare in the US can be expensive and incredibly difficult to navigate.
Who do I contact about other practical and/or accessibility-related concerns?