My article about writing workshops, “Basic Training for Writers,” which recently appeared in the SFWA Bulletin, has been published on their Web site [PDF].
[Excerpt:] Writers choosing to specialize in writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror have a number of opportunities to study with luminaries in the field by participating in writers’ workshops. These workshops are in-depth examinations of a writer’s strengths and weaknesses, and force students to both write and critique the work of others a great deal. This provides for a rather intense experience, which is why this sort of workshop is often referred to as a “writer’s boot camp.”
In my role as assistant editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, I’ve seen the results of these workshops first hand. Some writers don’t show an appreciable increase in skill or craft right away (for some it takes a while for the lessons to sink in, and for some it never sinks in at all), but for others it’s as if their writing experienced a quantum leap–as if going to the workshop turned some key and unlocked their inner writer. While examples of the former are fairly common, examples of the latter are harder to come by.
But one such writer is David Marusek. He’s what you might call a poster child for workshopping success. “I attended Clarion West in Seattle in 1992 and sold two short stories that I wrote there. I sold one on the spot to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. I sold the other a month later to Playboy. These were my first ever fiction sales, and I have been publishing regularly, if not prolifically, ever since,” he said. Marusek’s stories have gone on to be lauded by both fans and critics alike, and in 1999, his story “The Wedding Album,” was nominated for a Nebula Award and won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.
Before attending Clarion West, Marusek says that he had been writing for about seven years on his own, with no writing classes under his belt and only a few week-long workshops. He was collecting personalized rejections from editors, but he couldn’t seem to break into print. “In retrospect,” he said, “I believe I had taught myself the basic elements of the craft–characterization, plotting, dialog, etc.–but I still lacked that certain ineffable something that makes them all jell into a story. And that’s what I picked up at Clarion West.”