Explore the writers of the Clarion West Write-a-thon

Here are a few early progress reports from Clarion West Write-a-thon participants:

We’re off! 228 of us, pursuing writing, editing, and publishing goals for six weeks to attract donations for the Clarion West Writers Workshop.

I encourage you to explore the participants’ pages, where you’ll find excerpts from the work of pros like Andy Duncan, Vonda McIntyre, Elizabeth Bear, Louise Marley, Rachel Swirsky, Kelley Eskridge, and Nisi Shawl, and emerging stars like Vylar Kaftan, J.M. Sidorova, and Cat Rambo (to name just a very few of the 228 participants).

In the next few days, I’ll be posting here about my own Write-a-thon goals — which including writing three short stories inspired by Jonathan Coulton songs and publishing them on Writer Way. (Thank you, Jeff and Allen, for your generous support!)

Here are a few early progress reports from Write-a-thon participants:

Brenda Cooper is writing 1,000 words a day on a novel — plus training for the STP (Seattle-to-Portland) bike ride event.

Janine Southard is writing four short stories and outlining a novel.

Sandra Odell is writing 2,000 words a week on her novel while focusing on taming her Inner-Bitch (er, Inner-Editor).

Gabrielle Harbowy, who edits novels for a living, is going to start writing one.

I’m writing this post from the 4th Street Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis, where I just had the honor of moderating a writers workshop on storytelling that featured Oneal Isaac, Scott Lynch, Beth Meacham, and Mary Robinette Kowal. I was so inspired by their presentations and Q&A with the workshop attendees that I’m tempted to repair to my room and spend the rest of the weekend writing. But there are too many other great panels to attend, such as “Story Templates and the Folk Process” — which is starting in 10 minutes.

Live from Gnomedex 10

I’ll be at Gnomedex Friday and Saturday, soaking up new ideas.

I’ll be at Gnomedex Friday and Saturday, soaking up new ideas and meeting new people.

Working at a computer, connecting via all the usual social media platforms, certainly gives you the feeling of being exposed to new ideas. But the in-person experience is so much less controllable and, usually, so much better.

I’ll report back on the highlights — or maybe I’ll see you there and we’ll get to talk.

The Clarion West Write-a-thon: You’re invited

The Clarion West Write-a-thon combines a fundraiser for the workshop (keeping tuition affordable for aspiring writers) with an opportunity for Clarion West graduates and other fiction writers to focus on their own writing or publishing goals during the workshop period.

If you read contemporary science fiction, chances are you’ve enjoyed the work of some of the graduates of the Clarion West Writers Workshop — writers like Kij Johnson, Cat Rambo, Mary Rosenblum, Nisi Shawl, and David Levine. You may recognize some of these names as nominees (and winners) of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Each summer, 18 students from across the country (and around the world) come to Seattle to spend 6 weeks at Clarion West, studying with leading writers and editors in the field of speculative fiction.

It’s an exhilarating experience. For many students, Clarion West is the catalyst that transforms them from promising writers into polished professionals — people who go on to present extraordinary works of imagination to the world.

The Clarion West Write-a-thon combines a fundraiser for the workshop (keeping tuition affordable for aspiring writers) with an opportunity for Clarion West graduates and other fiction writers to focus on their own writing or publishing goals during the workshop period.

If you’re a writer, you can sign up to write (by June 19) and then invite your friends to encourage you via a donation to Clarion West.

If you’re a reader of speculative fiction, you can find out more about participating writers and support one or more of us during the Write-a-thon event (June 20 – July 30).

As a new member of the Clarion West board — and as a 2010 Write-a-thon participant — I invite you to join us this summer for the Write-a-thon and for the Clarion West Summer Reading Series at the University Bookstore. The readings feature this year’s instructors, each presenting recent works or works-in-progress and answering audience questions about writing, teaching, editing, and more.

Pizza and anarchy, all over again

No matter how you constitute a group, certain people will fall into the roles of the leader, the anarchist, the followers, and the deserters.

I was a psych major in college and working at a community counseling program. We ran a crisis hot line, manned a “trip tent” at rock concerts, and took a lot of practical training in group dynamics as it was then studied by the Tavistock Institute.

A psychologist from the university facilitated a training for us in group processes that had a profound effect on my life.

Or should we order subs instead?

At the training, seven or eight of us were put in a group and assigned what seemed a simple a task: to order pizza for lunch.

But by the end of an hour, we had no pizza, the group had split into two warring factions, and I was miserable.

It started when someone suggested ordering two pizzas, one with one type of topping, the second with another. There was a general murmur of “sounds reasonable” and “one of them should be vegetarian” and I joined in that affirmative chorus. Discussion of specific toppings had begun when my friend Tim, a glint in his eye, said loudly “Why does it have to be pizza? The restaurant has sub sandwiches, too. We could get meatball subs.”

Everyone looked at Tim.

“Good point,” someone said. But others in the group were frowning. Things were getting complicated.

There was discussion of getting a couple of subs and a pizza. Then someone pointed out “Look, the assignment for the group was to order pizza.” General agreement, in which I joined. The suggester, buoyed by the agreement, returned to the plan for choosing the toppings for two pizzas, and people began discussing what should go on the veggie pizza and what on the non-veggie.

“Why do we have to do what we’re told?” Tim asked. “No one said we couldn’t change or modify the assignment. Perhaps this is an exercise to see if we can stop being sheep.”

This made sense to me, and apparently to several other folks. People stopped talking about pizza toppings, and started talking about the assignment. Groups dealt with disagreement! This was natural!

After a while, discussion died down and there was a tentative suggestion that we go ahead and order sandwiches from a deli instead.

At which point, a fellow who’d been moving in to Tim’s camp said. “Why do we have to order anything at all? Why couldn’t we just decide to give the pizza money to charity? We could decide to do that, and just go home. Hey, we could just take the money and go to a bar and get drunk.”

I think, at this point, Tim got up and reached for his coat.

“Sounds good to me,” he said.

Not surprisingly, several people in the group began looking distinctly uneasy. They looked at the psychologist who was sitting on a couch, observing our group process. He, of course, looked utterly detached.

By now the group had polarized. At one end, there was Tim and the other anarchist. At the other end, the conservatives, who by now wanted to order the damn pizzas and forget Tim.

On the sidelines were a few people who thought Tim was being a clever jerk and the pizza people were getting ridiculously worked up over a pizza. By now, most of them looked bored and ready to leave.

And then there was me. All I could think was that this silly argument was going to go on for ever, and we’d never get anything accomplished. Or any lunch. And I was utterly miserable.

At the end of the second hour, the psychologist called a halt to it. He pointed out to us how the group had polarized, and what roles each of us had taken. He assured us that no matter how you constitute a group, certain people will fall into the roles of the leaders, the anarchists, the followers, and the deserters.

At the end of the training, the psychologist called me over. He said: “You need to stay out of groups. You take on the overall experience of the organization. Whenever there is conflict, which there inevitably is, you experience the conflict, and it will tear you apart.”

I heeded his advice, and worked for a number of years as a journalist, observing and describing conflicts without having to be part of the conflicts themselves. In recent years, I’ve been careful (and fortunate) to work with strong, decisive bosses and clients.

I’m just now starting to be involved with groups as a volunteer and, let me tell you, it’s pizza and anarchy all over again.

When the saint comes marching in

Englishman offended by the municipal authorities’ decision to “dumb down” his street’s name (from “St. John’s Close” to “St. Johns Close”) he returned his local street signs to the proper singular possessive — using paint and a paint brush.

I’ve studied with two of the best news editors who ever lived (the late Tim Cohane and Irv Horowitz) and worked under some pretty damn good ones.

So my hat is off to Stefan Gatward, of Tunbridge Wells, England. According to this UPI report, Mr. Gatward was so offended by the municipal authorities’ decision to “dumb down” his street’s name (from “St. John’s Close” to “St. Johns Close”) that he returned his local street signs to the proper singular possessive using paint and a paint brush.

Life is easy, and then you die

Mr. Arakawa and Ms. Gins are conceptual artists whose challenging loft apartments in Japan include brightly colored walls, bumpy, undulating floors and floor-to-ceiling ladders.

bioscleave_verticaljpgYesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a front page feature on a New York couple who design environments that challenge our cognitive assumptions — and, they believe, stimulate us in ways that prolong our lives, perhaps to the point of immortality.

The couple’s savings were lost in the Madoff scam, halting their work.

Mr. Arakawa and Ms. Gins are conceptual artists challenging loft apartments in Japan feature brightly colored walls, bumpy, undulating floors and floor-to-ceiling ladders. They’ve also done a house in the Hamptons, priced at $5.5 million. Their goal was to build an entire village based on “transhumanism” priciples.

I’m intrigued by this approach, and would very much like to spend a week or two living in one of their lofts. Until the past century, humans spend  much of their lives in environments that were extremely challenging, biologically and psychologically. It makes sense to me that, at some level, we need this more than we do CAT-5 wiring, motion sensing lighting, and bug-repellent clothing.

Stretches for your mind

Before I write, I often see shapes, images, and structures — essentially three-dimensional, color outlines that serve as the bones over which I drape sentences and paragraphs.

Not unexpectedly, I’m a fan of the Visual Thesaurus. Go ahead, give it a try, or take the tour. There’s also a Visual Thesaurus blog I feel I have to mention…since the Jan. 3 post was kind enough to mention Writer Way.

If not now, when?

Creating Passionate Users is urging readers to “make something amazing, right now.” Ignore the constraints, lose the excuses and, as that old slogan goes, “just do it.”

There’s much to be said for this approach, particularly if you’re surrounded by ditherers in a hidebound traditional organization.

However, as someone who moves in entrepreneurial circles, I often find myself in exactly the opposite position. I see people leaping madly from project to project, enterprise to enterprise, today’s idea to tomorrow’s fancy. They don’t seem to produce much of anything, and often they acquire an alarmingly overdeveloped capability for…leaping.

Fortunately, there are some opportunities to do new things which are at once intoxicatingly challenging and realistically structured.

One of them is Seattle Mind Camp. Now in version 3.0, this is a 24-hour gathering of 250 self-selected technology types who take over a building full of meeting spaces in order pose and address questions all day and through the night. Inventions, friendships, and even companies, have emerged from previous Mind Camps. I expect I’ll have something more specific to say about Mind Camp after I’ve done it (Nov. 11-12); if you’re interested, sign up (50 spaces are available as of this writing) and I’ll see you there.

Another creative-but-structured challenge is the month-long NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Thousands of aspiring novel writers participate, and fortunately they don’t have to spend all that time together in the same building. Instead, online and local support groups are formed in which writers cheer each other along. And each writer gets a page on the NaNoWriMo site to track word count and make exerpts available for others to read.

I’ll be “doing NaNoWriMo” for the first time this year. My plan is to overhaul and expand a New England crime fiction novel I’ve been working on sporadically for several years. This is the perfect opportunity to apply some of the novel-structuring techniques I learned in Matt Briggs‘ recent class offered through Media Bistro.

I expect that as I scribble my way through NaNoWriMo I’ll think back often on two old college friends, Ed and Michael. Ed, even at that age, identified himself as a writer. Michael was already a well-recognized folk and jazz musician. We frequently got together when Michael had a gig in town. As we walked along Chapel Street one night after one of Mike’s performances, Ed launched into an amusing comparison of the musician’s life with that of the writer. His bitter conclusion: “I can’t invite beautiful women to come over and watch me write all evening!”

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