A few things that have changed about my writing since Clarion…
It's been roughly five months since Clarion. I haven't written any new stories, yet, but I have worked on the rewrites for my Clarion stories plus one that was written pre-Clarion. I've noticed a couple of things about my writing since Clarion, and I thought I'd post here just to share to and to see if any other Clarionites have experienced the same.
The first phenomenon is that my resistance to dramatically changing a story on a rewrite has lessened. Before Clarion, I would be pretty rigid. I would make changes, yes, sometimes significant, but rarely wholesale. I would stick more or less to the story and the plot and the characters that were already in place, embellishing or subtracting where I felt necessary. Now, I'm not afraid at all to completely scrap entire threads, change backgrounds, add characters and plot threads. Anything to make the story better, because that's what it's all about.
A bunch of disparate advice has gestalted over the years to help this message sink in. Michael Swanwick said something during his week at Clarion that has really stuck with me, and that was that writing is all about entertainment. It's easy, sometimes, to forget what writing is all about. You can have your head filled with so many rules and goals that you forget what you're really trying to do. Yes, there are other goals (creating art, exploring fundamental truths, poking fun, enlightening), but when it comes down to it, isn't it about entertainment? That was a nice wake up call, and it made me less scared to rip a story apart as long as the final product was better. Scott Card said he's not afraid at all of rewriting entire stories, even entire books (which he has done). Michael Swanwick and Nancy Kress both said that they sometimes rewrite heavily (as opposed to “edit a little”) before getting a final product. And their approaches to writing (while perhaps not efficient) gave me some confidence that I could do the same, that the stuff I write on a first draft is not to be regarded as sacrosanct. It should be treated as a draft, not the draft. It may even be completely exploratory, a practice run before the real writing begins. After all, I've begun to see that attempting to save writing that doesn't work can be much more time consuming and damaging than simply tossing it. I haven't yet scrapped an entire story and written it again, but I'm not necessarily afraid to do so anymore.
The second phenomenon is that I'm becoming more relaxed with my writing in general. Pre-Clarion, I felt, at times, rigid or stifled or something. My sentences would be, not super-structured, but they wouldn't deviate much from a few set patterns of construction. Now, they vary quite a bit. I feel, I suppose, more comfortable and confident in my writer's skin. This is a good thing, I think, because I feel that this is the point in a writer's career where voice really begins to stand out. Some people (of whom I'm very jealous) have this skill inherently. They're such good readers or so intuitive as writers that they hardly had to work on this aspect at all. Me? I had to work at it. A lot. I'm all about rules and structure and pattern. And this aspect of writing is about letting go, allowing the voice of the narrative to take the story where it will. It's still evolving, yet I suspect that this is the single-most important change I'll get out of Clarion.
A third phenomenon is probably more particular to me, because I had certain weaknesses that I was trying to hone in on by going to Clarion. I'm more comfortable with interior monologue now. It still doesn't come naturally to me, but I feel like I can explore someone's psyche and have it be interesting. I'm also noticing the execution of this in other people's writing more and more: that interior monologue is crucial to revealing character. Two years ago, I would have stuck almost exclusively to showing, not telling. My characters would have uttered hardly a peep regarding their own desires and fears. By the time Clarion hit, I was better, especially after attending Scott Card's Literary Bootcamp, but it still hadn't sunk in completely. Now, I feel like I'm striking a decent balance between showing and telling, and my characters are starting to come more alive on the page.