Applying to Clarion West

Do you accept students from other countries?

Yes, as long as they’re writing in English. We’ve had students from Canada, the U.K., Switzerland, France, Australia, Nigeria, China, the Netherlands, Vietnam, New Zealand, and elsewhere. Students from other countries are also eligible to apply for our scholarship assistance.

What about my writing sample? What kind of work should I submit? Must it be SF? 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 page limit).

Can I send more than two stories? A short story and a novel excerpt + synopsis? How about a few flash pieces?

Yes, send us whatever is your best. The only stipulation is that that total page count doesn’t exceed the 30-page limit. If you have a great flash piece or two to include in your 30 pages, please do, though don’t feel you need to just to fill up the page count.

Can I send a previously published story? A story accepted but not published?

Yes. We’re not publishing it, so it won’t violate copyright or publishing agreements.

How about a screenplay?

No poetry, screenplays, plays, or comic scripts. Please only send short stories or novel segments. This workshop is focused on storytelling through prose. Instructors may discuss other formats and genres during the workshop, but that’s not what we’re looking for at the time of application.

How about a children’s novel or picture book script?

Please do not send picture book script or stories for children, as that is not our readers’ area of expertise. Adult or young adult is the best age range for a work sample for us.

How about fan fiction?

We’d rather see what kind of world and characters you can create.

What part of the novel should I send?

It’s best to send the first chapter. It’s harder to make an accurate assessment of a random middle chapter, and nearly impossible to make one from the end.

What do you mean by a synopsis?

A description of what happens in the novel, from the start through to the end, whether or not you’ve actually written the whole novel yet. This shows us the shape of the whole story. The synopsis should be about three pages and just a reminder that these pages do count toward the 30-page total for the writing sample (i.e., if submitting a novel excerpt, you’re only allowed 27 pages of excerpt, plus 3 pages of synopsis).

What if there is information that would be helpful for you to know that isn’t covered on the scholarship application?

Feel free to add an explanatory note. However, please don’t send us copies of official papers—just explain your situation.

What should I name my submission files?

We don’t care, but please do include your last name and the file extension. We get way too many files called “CW sample” and “CW bio.” Thanks.

How many files should I prepare?

Two: one for your writing sample(s) and one for your bio.

What if I sent the wrong file?

Let us know ASAP. We may have already forwarded your work to our readers, but it still may be possible to catch it before they read it. Unfortunately, if they’ve read it, it’s too late. None of our readers have time to read revisions.

What do you mean by midnight?

We mean that 12:01 AM Pacific time on March 2 is too late.

Can I pay the full tuition early to reserve my place? Can I be on your waitlist?

We will let you know if you are accepted for the class or the waitlist. Please do not attempt to pay the tuition before you have been accepted to the class.

What if I don’t have my own PayPal account and have to use my friend’s?

Please just let us know what name and email address will appear on the payment for your application so we can match it up, and ask your friend to include your name in the PayPal special instructions field.

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 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?

No. We’ve had several students with no college education and several with PhDs.

What if I applied last year and didn’t get in?

While everyone hopes to get accepted on their first try, many of our successful applicants apply multiple times before being invited. Your prior application history does not help or hinder your chances, so we urge you to apply when you feel ready to attend, regardless of whether you’ve applied before.

When will I hear if I got in?

You will hear by the end of March, though we do sometimes contact students before then.

Do letters of recommendation help me get in?


May I have an extension and send my application in late?


Is it okay if my writing sample is longer than thirty pages 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.

Can you accept the application fee in the currency of my home country?

Sorry, we can only do this if your home country is the United States, as the processing fees for non-U.S. currency are just too high.

The Clarion West Experience

What’s it really like?

Wild. Wonderful. Intense. Insane. Suddenly you have 17 new friends who are as passionate about writing science fiction/fantasy as you are. You get to know six professionals who are equally passionate, and who reveal amazing things about writing — your writing. It’s amazing and liberating, and you’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. And love every minute of it. There’s not enough time in the day. You need your sleep, you don’t dare sleep. You speak in code. Six weeks fly by, and the real world seems pale and dull.

What’s the routine?

Classes usually last all morning, and each participant gets a chance to critique every story handed in the day before. Afternoons and evenings are free for writing, reading, critiquing, and/or sleeping.

The routine can vary from year to year according to the preferences of each class…and each instructor. Sunday nights usually feature a meeting with the coming week’s instructor(s) and possibly an assignment for the coming week. Some years, the participants have elected to have a large group dinner at that time to kick off each week. Many instructors will also allow each student to sign up for a private or a small group conference with the instructor during appointment times scheduled throughout the week.

Do I have to stay in the residence?

Yes. Clarion West now rents out a sorority house for the duration of the workshop and we are charged rent based there being 18 students in the workshop. As a nonprofit organization, we can’t afford to pay rent for students who live off-site. Besides, living in the house together is an integral part of the Clarion West experience, and in the past students who didn’t live in the dorm regretted it. They missed the midnight runs to the pancake house, the best gossip (which always happens after midnight and at odd times on the weekends), not to mention the “running down the halls screaming because the damn character just did something weird and the story is due tomorrow morning” bonding moments. They missed the opportunity to hang out with the instructors at meals and when they stopped by the living room for an hour, and missed chats with famous authors who stopped by for a Q&A session. And, hey, who wants to miss that kind of fun?

When is the best time to go?

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.

If you sincerely feel that you are God’s Gift to Writing and that your classmates will humble themselves before your brilliance, and the teachers will hold up your work as an example of Pulitzer material in the making, then you probably won’t have a good workshop experience.

After Clarion West

How many participants turn into professional sf/f writers?

It depends on the class—in recent years, we have had several students start publishing professionally almost directly out of the workshop. We’ve had students go on to found magazines or become editors of already existing ones, and students who’ve moved into graphic novels, screenwriting, and game writing. In some recent classes all members have gone on to publish professionally. Well over half of our alumni from recent years have been published, and well over half are still writing. Some have already won major awards. The really amazing, mysterious thing is that you can’t tell at the outset who will end up where.

I’ve got a demanding career and a couple of young children — I can’t afford to be gone six weeks. Can I get the Clarion West experience some other way?

Clarion West holds a number of One-Day Workshops through the year, taught by acclaimed instructors. One-Day Workshops are six-hour intensives that contain many of the elements of our Six-Week Workshop, such as instructor-facilitated group critique and discussions about technique or professional concerns. They are available to anyone aged 18 or older for a $150 fee.

A number of science fiction conventions run writers workshops. Check with the con’s programming committee. A “Clarion-style” workshop allows all the participants to read and critique everyone’s work (as opposed to seating a panel of professionals to critique one writer at a time).

I’ve already graduated from Clarion West. Can I go back?

No, Grasshopper, you can never go back. But there is a Clarion West master’s class available in two books: PARAGONS, edited by Robin Wilson (1996, St. Martin’s Press) and THOSE WHO CAN (revised edition 1996, St. Martin’s Press, out of print but widely available at online and physical used bookstores). They contain essays on writing by Greg Bear, Pat Cadigan, Nancy Kress, Howard Waldrop, and a bunch of our other favorite Clarion West instructors.