Five months later, I’m still thinking of Clarion West

Some family issues have kept me offline, so I’m guestblogging a little later than I originally intended to. In the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking of something smart and witty to say, but it looks like smart and witty are intent on evading me, so I suppose I’ll just have to keep to how things are.

Arrived in the mail today: a letter telling me that Clarion West is now open for applications. Details for application can be found here

Looking at that website reminds me of last year and my battle between desire and duty. Leaving behind my kids was probably one of the toughest decisions I had to make and there were people who didn’t understand why I would leave my husband and children behind because I wanted to write.

“Are you writing a book?”

“Are you going to be famous now?”

I don’t know whether it’s got something to do with Harry Potter or Twilight, but somehow people seem to expect that if you are a writer of science fiction and fantasy it means you’ve got some blockbuster book up your sleeve that will be turned into a movie any day now.

It’s true that the Clarion workshops are meant for writers who are interested in pursuing a professional career as a writer. There will be shop talk, lecturers will give you advice on where to send your work and how to deal with certain things, but a lot of what gets done depends on the writer and how much a writer achieves all boils down to the writer, the writer’s vision, and the writer’s determination.

Clarion West is not some magical workshop that guarantees instant publication or a breakthrough in your writing. Breakthroughs do happen, and I did make a good number of discoveries about my own work and about myself as a writer. Perhaps the most important thing I was gaining a deeper insight into what I truly wanted to do with my writing.

This year, I know eighteen students will be in for a grand adventure. I wish with all my heart that there will be more writers of color coming to the workshop. I wish there were more Filipinos who would try to get in.

Beyond knowledge, Clarion West gifted me with comrades. I met people who cared passionately about their writing and about their craft. It is impossible to remain unmoved in such a place, with such people. It’s not easy getting from here to there, but it gives me a warm feeling to think that someday I’ll see someone’s book on a shelf and say: Oh hey, that was my classmate.

An online friend told me that going to Clarion would be a life-changing experience. Five months after,  I am still thinking of what I’ve learned, and I can’t help but agree with her statement.

Perhaps one of the gifts that the Clarion experience bequeaths on those who attend is the ability to understand the role of mentors and comrades better. In those six weeks, my classmates and I were comrades and mentors to each other.

When I look back, I see how the exercise of scrutinizing our work and each other’s works, the act of giving words of encouragement and words of criticism, these were acts and exercises that served to strengthen our camaraderie.  Through the giving and receiving of  healthy criticism, we were able to help each other to move forward beyond the wall that kept our stories from achieving their full potential. This community we belong to is not a very large one, but it’s filled with warm and wonderful people who share generously of their knowledge and their experience.

If you go to the workshop expecting a magic key or a secret word, you won’t find it. Some things that you learn there will take time. In fact, five months after, I’m still thinking about everything I learned while I was there. On some days, I think that everything I write is crap. On some days, I think it’s getting better.

If you go to the workshop with a heart open to learn anything and everything, with a spirit that is willing to embrace and accept criticism and grow towards being your best. If you go there wanting to share of yourself, and wishing to be your true self, then you will certainly benefit from it.

bio: Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipina writer who lives in The Netherlands with her husband and two sons. The recipient of the 2009 Octavia Butler Scholarship, Rochita is a graduate of the 2009 Clarion West Writer’s Workshop and a member of the expatworkshop based in Europe. Her work has appeared or will appear in Weird Tales Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Apex Digest, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, and in the upcoming Ruins and Resolve anthology. She maintains a blog at:

5 comments on “Five months later, I’m still thinking of Clarion West

  1. “I don’t know whether it’s got something to do with Harry Potter or Twilight, but somehow people seem to expect that if you are a writer of science fiction and fantasy it means you’ve got some blockbuster book up your sleeve that will be turned into a movie any day now.”

    Or that you have to have a book. I know a lot of people who think my writing is just a hobby because it hasn’t yielded a novel, or equivalent, for them to hold in their hands. If they can’t see outside of the internet, it doesn’t really exist to them. It doesn’t bother me, but I have wondered if other writers get similar flack. Thanks for this.

  2. alley says:

    I heard you write a bunch of short stories at Clarion. I’m not a short story writer. I do my best at novels, would this be a problem at Clarion?

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  4. Your post gave me some nice new thoughts – a very solid read.

  5. Rochita Loenen-Ruiz says:

    Hi Alley. We did indeed write short stories during the six weeks we were there, but I don’t think it should be a problem if your natural length is the novel. I had a good number of classmates who also wrote best at novel length. I think the greatest thing one takes away from Clarion is finding a group of peers on the same wavelength as you are. Also, the lecturers always have something fabulous and inspiring to say. It’s well worth going.

    S.J., sorry for the late response and thanks for reading. It seems I’m still in a shady area between being a real writer and a hobby writer because I don’t have a book either. I’ve also been told this: “You should write the story of my life. It’s bound to be a bestseller.”

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