The Clarion West Writer’s Workshop

I am an online participant of Clarion West this year.

What does that mean? It doesn’t mean I’m attending online workshops or webinars, it doesn’t mean that I had to go through a big selection process. It means I signed up with the goal to write, and agreed to participate in the write-a-thon. At first my plan was to write 750 words of a novel that I wanted to get finished by the end of this year.

Then I found out about three (!) short story submission opportunities, and I think I want to go for those instead. They all have deadlines in August, and I feel like they’re all up my alley.

So that’s my idea for Clarion West during the write-a-thon: 750 words a day and three short stories at the end of it. And maybe in between, I’ll get a crack at my novel.

Too bad the write-a-thon started today. I’m already behind – it feels like Nanowrimo all over again.

Speaking of Nanowrimo, Clarion West coincided nicely with my decision to try Camp Nano this year. I’m starting up with a friend, though I’m not sure what she’ll be working on for the month of July.

Unlike Nanowrimo, Camp Nano isn’t all about writing a novel in a month. For Camp Nano, participants make their own goals and word counts. I think it’s a great way to be introduced to the concept of Nanowrimo for anyone who isn’t so sure that this write-50,000-words-in-a-month thing is a good or feasible idea. The pace is much more relaxed and you can work on finishing a novel, writing short stories, poetry, scripts of any kind, essays…pretty much anything.

In November I tried to update my blog every day with news on how the noveling was going. My experience proved two things to me: Firstly, that I would be terrible at the blog-a-day challenge, and secondly, that I didn’t necessarily want to share my tripe with the world. So I may not be posting as much as I would aim to during the month of July. But I’m sure I’ll find something to write about; no one can keep me silent forever.

On a finishing note, I have a question for any short story writers out there. I never seem to have a suitable short story when a compilation is requesting submissions. As a result I often end up writing a short story with the one compilation specifically in mind. There are a lot of cons to this procedure, which I may come back to (perhaps after I have submitted my short stories?), and I’m curious – does anyone else write a short story directly for a specific compilation? Do you do it often? Do you often submit previously prepared short stories to compilations and magazines? I guess I’m mostly asking genre writers here, since I’ve noticed that a lot of genre magazines/compilations have themes for each issue.

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What do you need to get started writing?

Sorry but it’s going to be a short post today. I’ve been studying so I haven’t been spending much time thinking about writing. So today, my topic doesn’t demand a large word count.

A little while ago I asked about inspiration. How important is it to you in order for you to write, and how does it affect your writing?

While chewing over this question, I figured something out. It’s pretty easy for me to start writing something if I know how it begins. Then, even if I’m not particularly inspired, I can keep going until I come to another ‘beginning’ that I have to work with.

On the other hand, even if I know the plot, the theme, and the style of the story, if I don’t have that little detail of how to begin, I have a really hard time. I mess around with my prose but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. This was even true of my academic work – I couldn’t start writing a paper until I knew how it would start (not the introduction, but the actual body of the paper. Introductions are the worst).

I’m experiencing that problem right now. I’ve got a story that I’ve split up into chapters. I’m trying to work on a chapter but I can’t figure out how to start it. Usually I try to brainstorm while I’m on my bicycle. Do any of you have little ways to help you get started on a story or a chapter?

Who Needs Inspiration?

I’ve been reading a lot of writing advice recently. Don’t ask me why, since most writing advice hinges on style and method, which are personal to everyone. This is just one of my ways of killing time instead of doing productive things, like finding a new job.

Since I’ve been pretty much indiscriminate about which writing advice I read, I’ve come across a lot of contradictions. Sometimes the advice is meaningless enough that I don’t really care whether someone contradicts it or not. But some quotes on each side of a debate have stuck with me.

One thing people seem to be in disagreement about is the matter of inspiration. A number of authors advise writers not to wait around for it. If we sit around waiting for the inspiration to strike, it never will and we’ll finish our lives without ever having made our goals. Others say that it will come. Don’t worry about it. Better to wait and write something inspired than to wallow in bad prose, trying to push through a mental block.

I feel like I’ve been on both sides of the fence here, opinion-wise. When I’ve truly been inspired, I’ve taken every spare moment to work on my piece. I’ve been driven to ignore all temptations such as games, books, films, and the internet. I’ve neglected meals, because the end is always a few sentences away and I can’t bear the possibility of losing my inspiration and my train of thought just because my brain couldn’t control my body.

That being said, my moments of inspiration have come few and far between. When I was really busy on my MA, I only wrote when I was inspired. As a result, I have two pieces from that time – a completed short story, and the prologue to what I believe will be a very interesting novel if I can ever capture that voice again. I do regret that I didn’t spend more time on my fantasy writing during my MA.

I feel – and perhaps some of you do too – that the writing I do when I’m inspired is superior to what I do when I’m just writing because my story needs to go somewhere. But I don’t honestly know whether my writing is better. My judgment may be clouded because I enjoy writing more when I’m inspired. After I finished that inspired short story during my MA, I sent it off to a writing buddy. She tactfully avoided my questions about it and did not provide me with the critique I requested, so I can only assume she didn’t like it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad, of course. I would ask for at least a second opinion before I decided to scrap the whole thing. It might, however, be something that should never see the light of day again, no matter how inspired I was to write it.

I feel as though my first drafts need more work when they’re uninspired, even if I’ve planned them out beforehand. However, my extra level of attachment to my work might cloud my judgment.

Does anyone else feel a difference in the quality of their work when they’re uninspired/inspired? Or is it just that things get done faster, so the draft is finished at lightning speed? Or does inspiration come in the ideas, rather than the more concrete written word?