When, why, and how
The Clarion West summer six-week workshop, focused on short speculative fiction, is one of the premier workshops of its kind. Based in Seattle, Washington, it’s a six-week boot camp for fiction writers in which the students acquire new writing techniques, employ advanced critique methods, and learn about the business of being a professional writer. It is six weeks of eating, sleeping, dreaming, and living story with a cohort of 17 other writers. It’s an incredible challenge and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
When are you ready to apply for Clarion West? The first answer is when you feel like there’s something keeping you from getting to the next level in your writing. Maybe you’ve gotten great feedback about your work but haven’t managed to sell any stories. Maybe you’ve sold some stories, but you’re stuck on the same topics. Clarion West is aimed at people who have a solid grasp on story writing and technique but are trying to make the leap from “good” to “professional.”
The second answer is when you feel like it’s time. Can you arrange for six weeks off from work, school, or family? Are you ready to have your work critiqued rigorously? Are you looking for the kind of transformative experience that the workshop can provide?
Then it’s time to apply.
(And if you don’t get in, don’t worry—quite a few students accepted into the program applied several years in a row before being accepted. Keep working on being the most awesome writer you can be!)
Applications for the Six-Week Workshop open in early December of every year. To make the application process go smoothly, you’ll want these things on hand:
- A sample of your work, consisting of a total of 20 to 30 pages of manuscript (one or two short stories, or a novel excerpt with a synopsis of up to three pages). It should not exceed the page limit, even if it includes a synopsis. Your manuscript should be formatted in 12-point Courier (typewriter) font and double-spaced, with one-inch margins. (See Vonda McIntyre’s manuscript preparation guide and William Shunn’s story formatting guide for more information.). 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 DOCX, Pages, or ODF files.
- A 700- to 800-word description of your background and your reasons for attending the workshop. (See below for more information about the essay.)
- 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.
- The application fee of $60 ($35 through February 10). We prefer PayPal payments, but you can also mail a check to us. Details about payments can be found on our FAQ page.
The application and scholarship forms together take about 30–60 minutes to fill out, and you will have the opportunity to save your work and come back to it at a later time. You don’t need to pay the application fee until after you’ve submitted. Just remember to submit your materials (including the fee) before the deadline—we do not accept late applications. If you submit before February 10, you get a discount on the application fee.
About scholarships: We encourage all applicants who need assistance to afford the workshop to apply for scholarships. Thanks to our very generous community, half or more of our students each year receive some form of scholarship support. We also have a small fund earmarked specifically to accommodate students with special needs.
About the application essay: Clarion West admits students on the strength of their fiction, not on their ability to write amazing personal essays. However, the essay is an important part of the application process—it gives the workshop staff a sense of the person behind the story, and it’s used to introduce each student to the instructors. The essay is a great opportunity to put your best foot forward.
What should go into your essay? Any biographical information that you think is relevant, why you’re applying for the workshop, and answers to some or all of the following prompts:
- Why do you write?
- What do you read? Is there a piece of recent fiction that you find especially inspiring?
- Describe your writing experience.
- Tell us about your workshop and critiquing experience (if any).
- Is there anything in particular that you’d like your instructors and/or peers to know about you?
- What would your ideal workshop experience be? (Feel free to describe it in as much or as little detail as you like.)
- What do you have to offer your workshop peers?
- Clarion West is demanding (many students say that it is the most intensely demanding experience of their lives). How would you prepare yourself to engage, for six weeks straight, in writing and critiquing with the sustained intensity and the fast turnaround times required by the workshop?
- Why do you want to attend Clarion West now? What makes you feel ready for this experience?
The more of these prompts you can work into your essay, the better. You should also include your contact information through June of next year: phone number, email address, and mailing address. Note that Clarion West does occasionally interview short-listed applicants by phone prior to issuing invitations.
Good luck, and write on!