Table of Contents:

Section I: What is Clarion West?

Section II: The Application Process

Section III: What’s the Workshop Like?

Section IV: Practicalities/Concerns/Accessibility

Section V: After the Workshop

Section I: What is the Clarion West Six-Week Summer Workshop?

Every summer, Clarion West holds an intensive residential six-week workshop in Seattle’s University District, 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), highly regarded authors or editors offering their unique perspective on the field. Short fiction is the workshop’s focus, with an emphasis on science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Come prepared to write several new stories, to experiment and take artistic risks, and to give and receive constructive criticism. Critiquing style is derived from the Milford rules. 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” is an umbrella term for the genres of fiction that explore the uncanny, the imaginary, the unknown. It may include the supernatural, the alien or futuristic, and the fantastic—science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other genres like slipstream all fall under this definition.

Who attends? Am I a good fit?

Students are speculative fiction writers (science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.), both published and unpublished, who want to speed up their development as writers by learning their strengths and how to capitalize on them, learning their weaknesses and how to manage them,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.

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.

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 educational 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 have attended from all over the world—the only requirement is that you write in English.

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.

Note that Clarion West offers need-based scholarships due to the generosity of the speculative fiction community, so 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. Both international and U.S. students are eligible for our need-based scholarships and for our travel scholarships.

Section II: The application process

How do I apply?

Go to clarionwest.org/workshops/apply to apply. If you cannot use the online application form, please contact info@clarionwest.org by February 10, and we will send you an application form and instructions on applying by mail.

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 March 1 each year. Early applicants, applying through the end of February 10, receive a significant discount on the application fee.

Early applications close on midnight February 10.

Applications close on midnight March 1. By that, we mean that 12:01 AM Pacific time on March 2 is too late.

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

No.

Eligibility

Do you accept students from other countries?

Yes, as long as they are proficient speaking and 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.

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. We do encourage applying with a new draft or entirely different sample, as our reading assignments are randomized and your work may be considered by one or more of the same readers.

What materials do I need to apply?

  • 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). 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.) It should not exceed the page 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.
  • A 700- to 800-word description of your background and your reasons for attending the workshop. This essay is informal, but will be used to introduce you to the workshop’s instructors if you are accepted. Include 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 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 the 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 that you need to fill up the page count.

If I send part of a novel, what part 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. In general, it’s easiest for our readers to assess a piece with a complete arc (beginning, middle, and end) to get a sense of your skill for handling all the parts of a story.

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).

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.

Is it okay if my writing sample is longer than 30 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.

Submission files

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.

Do letters of recommendation help me get in?

No.

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.

Application fees

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 February 10. (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?

Due to the expense of processing fees for international currency, we can only take US currency.

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.

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.

Then, make sure you or the person who the PayPal account belongs to writes your name in the “Add special instructions to the seller” field on the second PayPal page.

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 info@clarionwest.org.

When will I hear back?

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

Section III: What’s Clarion West 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, but you don’t want to miss anything. You speak in code. Six weeks fly by, and the real world seems pale and dull.

M. Huw Evans, CW’12

During Clarion West, 18 students live together in one building in Seattle’s University District 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 weekly 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–12pm; 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. At the start of the workshop, each student signs up for a regular day each week to submit their story by 9pm. 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 9pm 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.

On weekday mornings 9am–12pm, 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.

Writing and submitting

Generally, each student submits one piece per week, written while at the workshop. Pieces are typically 2,000–4,500 words long, although there are no upper or lower word count limits. On the day a piece is critiqued, that student will have a 30-minute individualized afternoon meeting with the instructor. Submitting a piece every week is strongly encouraged, and almost everyone does it.

Other optional activities include:

  • Weekly public readings or conversations by that week’s instructor. Public events are held in Seattle-area venues, typically within a 5–15-minute walk or 15–20-minute drive. Students can sign up to be driven to most locations (attendance is strongly encouraged).
  • Weekly parties in the Seattle speculative fiction community (attendance is highly encouraged—these are opportunities to blow off steam and broaden your network!). These are held on Friday nights at local community members’ houses and are primarily for Clarion West alumni and volunteers, new students, and current and former instructors to meet and mingle. We arrange rides for students.
  • Hour-long weekly visits by mystery muses (writers, editors, agents).
  • Students also typically attend the Locus Awards, held in downtown Seattle.
  • Some years, students coordinate group Skype 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).

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.
  • Individual students’ experiences vary.
  • Having a self-care plan is a good idea.
  • 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.
  • When critiquing, students are required to talk about what’s positive about the piece first; most instructors do this too. We have an explicit policy of “critique the piece, not the author.” Most people, most of the time, have positive experiences being critiqued and find the critiques helpful.
  • You can read more about people’s experiences at Clarion West (and Clarion UCSD, its sister workshop) at a site maintained by a former Clarion student here.

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; you can continue building relationships with your class after the workshop, through mailing lists, private chat, social media, and/or videochat. 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?

Yes.

What is your confidentiality policy?

Clarion West has a strong confidentiality policy which requires consent in all media. This will be given to students at the workshop.

Section IV: Practicalities: Money, food, and accommodations

How much does Clarion West cost?

The total cost to attend the workshop is $4200; this covers tuition, room, and partial board (light, self-serve breakfast options are provided, and lunch and dinner are cooked for students 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, and $3–4/week to contribute to a class gift for that week’s instructor). Most students attend the Locus Awards. 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 a sorority house 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 has 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?

You can have a partner visit you for a day or two on the weekends with prior notice. Some local people go home overnight occasionally or even for a weekend in the middle of the workshop, but you should not count on going home frequently.

What are the food options?

We provide lunch and dinner Monday–Thursday. We ask about specific food needs ahead of time (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, etc.). Previous students have been enthusiastic about food quality.

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.

There are generally leftovers from meals (though not always enough for the entire weekend). Students can eat at any of various nearby restaurants (the University District has quite a few offerings), order takeout or delivery, or get groceries from nearby stores. Several grocery stores are within a 15-minute walk. There are also microwaves, a toaster, and a refrigerator for student use. Sometimes students cook a group meal for Sunday dinner using the industrial stove and oven.

What are the facilities and area like? Are they accessible?

The Clarion West 2020 Six-Week Workshop will be held in a single building, which includes individual bedrooms, a classroom, dining room, kitchen, laundry facilities, and communal areas. Each student is assigned their own bedroom with a twin-size bunk bed, closet, window, and dresser. Students can also reserve a folding desk, a fan, and a desk lamp. The building has all-gender and single-gender communal bathrooms with individual shower stalls, as well as two single-occupancy toilets and a single-occupancy bath.

Students will need to take stairs to go between their rooms, the classroom, and the dining room. To our chagrin, the building is not currently wheelchair-accessible: we are actively addressing the issue of wheelchair accessibility by seeking out other locations and/or adaptations to our current building. We hope to achieve a fully wheelchair accessible six-week workshop by 2021, and plan to continuously address and solve accessibility issues as they occur.

We recognize that disabilities and accessibility needs vary and encourage you to contact us if you have specific questions. We are also seeking out adaptive devices and resources for people with sensory and mobility disabilities, and we welcome recommendations. Our public events now include American Sign Language interpreters. Clarion West will make every attempt to meet the needs of all of our students, within the limits of the workshop structure and current facilities. If you have questions about the accessibility of the workshop or have other concerns, please contact info@clarionwest.org.

Some additional accessibility information:

  • The building is not air-conditioned. 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). There are fans available.
  • There is a printer in the building.
  • The bathrooms do not have grab bars.
  • 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 includes several active student housing complexes. There can be a bit of noise some nights, so if you are a light sleeper, sleeping with a fan or a white noise machine might be recommended.
  • The local area has sidewalks, with some hills. The building is a couple blocks from University Avenue, which has many restaurants, the University of Washington Bookstore, a grocery store, and a drugstore.
  • Students who need parking should contact info@clarionwest.org prior to the workshop; otherwise, bringing a car is not recommended.
  • The building has free WiFi.
  • You can receive postal mail at the building during the workshop. With special arrangements, the Clarion West office can accept packages sent ahead of your arrival, and there is a FedEx branch within walking distance.
  • The building has open spaces that can be used for yoga, body weight exercises, etc. You can also purchase a membership at a nearby gym.

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.

Who do I contact about other practical and/or accessibility-related concerns?

Contact info@clarionwest.org.

Section V: After Clarion West

How many participants turn into professional speculative fiction writers?

In recent years, we have had several students start publishing professionally almost directly out of the workshop. Some students come in published already, and continue to publish afterward. We’ve had students go on to found magazines or become editors of already existing ones, and students who’ve moved into graphic novels, comics, children’s books, interviews, podcasts, screenwriting, and game writing. In some recent classes all members have gone on to publish professionally. In any given year, Clarion West alumni have hundreds of publications sold. In 2018 alone, 19 alumni published novels and novellas or had them purchased for release in 2019; 108 published short stories, essays and poems; at least 30 had stories published in major anthologies; over 50 Clarion West alumni stories and novels were featured in major readings lists; and 13 won major industry awards.

Portions of this FAQ were developed by Noe Bartmess CW16 based on Noe’s post: Deciding Whether to Attend Clarion West, For Disabled Writers