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Article: Basic Training for Writers

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 an editor, 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.”

But you don’t have to take Marusek’s word for it—ask just about any writer who has attended one of the workshops. SF/fantasy author David Barr Kirtley, who has published fiction in Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, and in several anthologies, got so much out of his first workshop experience that he went on to attend several more. “The first workshop I attended—Clarion—was a revelation, a truly life-changing experience,” he said. “I found the workshop so fascinating that I started signing up for more. Obviously a one-week workshop isn’t going to be as involving as a six-week one, and there is a point of diminishing returns after a while, but every workshop I’ve done has taught me new things and introduced me to great new people, and I’d endorse any of them.”

Clarion graduate Daryl Gregory, whose stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Amazing Stories, said that though some people would say that the worst thing you can do is go to a workshop looking for validation, that’s the most important thing it did for him. “I didn’t know how this writing thing worked. I didn’t have any friends who were published writers. … The idea of becoming a writer seemed far-fetched and vaguely delusional, like deciding to become an alligator wrestler,” he said. “Once I was accepted, I killed time waiting for the workshop to start by going through the archives in the Michigan State library. Every story written for or during Clarion was down there. Early work by dozens of the field’s famous names, but stripped of the glamour of typesetting and binding. And the best thing? Some of the stories by these famous names sucked. Big time. … I decided that if they could be this bad and get so much better, then so could I.”

Attending one of the following workshops is a huge investment of time and money, so choosing the right one is of the utmost importance. The information provided below will help you determine which workshop would be best for you.

Note: The information contained in this article is subject to change, so check the workshop websites for up-to-date information.

Clarion: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop (Last updated: December 2012 for 2013 workshop)

Clarion is the granddaddy of science fiction writing workshops, founded in 1968 by Robin Scott Wilson at Clarion State College (now Clarion University) in Pennsylvania. The structure of Clarion was based upon the Milford Science Fiction Writers’ Conference, a professional writer’s workshop.

Science Fiction author and Clarion Foundation board member Kate Wilhelm says that the reason to go to Clarion is because of its long-standing tradition of success. “About one third of the alumni go on to become published writers, some with spectacular success,” she said. Vonda McIntyre, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucius Shepherd, Ted Chiang, and Bruce Sterling are just a few Clarion graduates who have gone on to wildly successful careers in the field.

Wilhelm also wanted to emphasize the talented variety of instructors Clarion provides. The first Clarion was taught by Wilhelm, Judith Merril, Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, and Damon Knight. Those legendary writers were superstars in their day, and the superstars of today continue to participate in the workshop.

All the tools and techniques a writer needs to know can be acquired at Clarion, says Wilhelm. “[Students will develop] a solid awareness of what it takes to become a professional writer. … A honed critical approach to the written work, others’, and one’s own. A way to find an individual voice that is uniquely that writer’s own voice, not derivative, not overly filtered through fleeting outside influences that change without warning.”

Here’s a description of the Clarion experience, from former Clarion Coordinator Jackie Kuhn: “In 2007 Clarion’s intensive six-week workshop relocated to the beautiful beachside campus of the University of California, San Diego. Each year 18 students, ranging in age from late teens to those in mid-career, are selected from applicants who have the potential for highly successful writing careers. Students are expected to write several new short stories during the six-week workshop, and to give and receive constructive criticism. Instructors and students reside together in campus apartments throughout the intensive six-week program. At UCSD, the workshop enjoys broad-based faculty, administrative support and opportunities for student interaction with eminent scientists engaged in cutting-edge work are unparalleled. Students are housed within walking distance of nature preserves and a great beach, and they are given free access to the university libraries. ComicCon International is held in San Diego in July, so not only do our students get to attend the con if they’re interested, but often distinguished writers, editors, and artists who come to the con stop by the workshop to talk with the students.”

2013’s instructors are: Andy Duncan, Nalo Hopkinson, Cory Doctorow, Robert Crais, Karen Joy Fowler, and Kelly Link

Tuition: $4957.00
Housing: Single occupancy rooms & three meals/day are included w/ tuition
College Credit: n/a
Application Fee: $50.00 (non-refundable); fee increases to $65.00 after Feb. 15
Application Deadline: March 1
Workshop Schedule: June 23-August 3
Location: San Diego, CA
Max. # of Participants: 18
Founded: 1968
URL: http://clarion.ucsd.edu 

Clarion West Writers Workshop (Last updated: December 2012 for 2013 workshop)

The Clarion West Writers Workshop was modeled after the original Clarion Workshop held in Clarion, Pennsylvania, which in turn was modeled on the Milford Writers Workshop.Clarion West was founded by Vonda N. McIntyre, who after graduating from the last of the original workshops in Clarion, PA, got permission from Robin Scott Wilson to bring the workshop to Seattle.The next year Clarion (East Lansing) was started in East Lansing, Michigan. After running three sessions in 1971, 1972, and 1973 with instructors such as Ursula Le Guin, the workshop closed until 1984, when JT Stewart and Marilyn Holt revived it for another two years.In 1986, a small group of Clarion West alumni restructured the workshop and have been running it as a non-profit educational organization ever since.

Clarion West Workshop Administrator Neile Graham said that “people decide to apply to Clarion West because of our reputation for excellence, our top-notch instructor line-up, and the allure of Seattle itself, not to mention the beauty of the surrounding mountains and water.”Administrator Leslie Howle says, “Our commitment to making the workshop welcoming to all is evident in the care we take in inviting instructors that reflect diversity.We want to speculative fiction to continue to attract and reflect the voices of writers of diverse cultural, racial, and gender backgrounds.”

Like Clarion, Clarion West offers a solid line-up of top quality instructors, but Graham says that West goes the extra mile for its students and faculty. “Clarion West staff are experienced, thoughtful, and professional, and the overall workshop environment creates a positive writing retreat atmosphere. Students compliment CW on the attention paid to details that facilitate the flow of the workshop and keep everything running smoothly so students can concentrate on writing. The sorority house we live in is homey, comfortable, and most meals are provided for,” she said. “The supportive Seattle SF community provides us with volunteers, welcoming hosts for our Friday night parties, and local authors visit the students as ‘mystery muse’ guest lecturers. Tuesday night instructor readings are held at the University Book Store a few blocks away.”

Here’s how Graham describes the workshop experience: “[It's] six wild, wonderful, intense, insane weeks where the most important thing is writing. Suddenly you have 17 new friends who are as passionate about writing science fiction/fantasy as you are. You get to know six professionals who are equally passionate, and who reveal hard truths about writing—your writing. It’s amazing and liberating, and you’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. There’s not enough time in the day. You need your sleep, you don’t dare sleep. You speak in code. Six weeks fly by, and the real world seems far away. You come out of it knowing more about yourself as a writer, as a person, and how to begin a writing career.”

Clarion West has produced some of science fiction and fantasy’s top writers and editors, including Gordon Van Gelder, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Andy Duncan, Justina Robson, Ben Rosenbaum, Margo Lanagan, Mary Rosenblum, Kathryn Cramer, David Marusek, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Sheree R. Thomas, Greg Cox, Daniel Abraham, David Levine, Andrea Hairston, and many others. Clarion West graduates have received every major form of recognition in the field, including the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards.

2013 Instructors: Elizabeth Hand, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Justina Robson, Ellen Datlow, and Samuel R. Delany. Plus, various Seattle-area and Seattle-visiting writers come for special class sessions.

Tuition: $3600
Housing: included with tuition fee
College Credit: n/a
Application Fee: $40.00 (non-refundable); $30 if application received by Feb. 10
Application Deadline: March 1
Workshop Schedule: June 23 – August 2
Location: Seattle, WA
Max # of Participants: 18
Founded: 1971
URL: clarionwest.org
Notes: Clarion West now runs a series of one-day workshops. Check their website for details.

Clarion South (Last updated: December 2010; this workshop is currently listed as “on hold indefinitely.”)

In addition to the two Clarion workshops mentioned above, there is now a third Clarion, this one located in Australia. Unlike the other Clarions, which are annual, the Clarion South workshop, after holding concurrent 2004 and 2005 workshops has decided to move to a biennial schedule.

Many of Clarion South’s previous students have gone on to success in professional markets for both short fiction and novels, including 2005 participant Ellen Klages who said this of her workshop experience: “I truly believe that six weeks at Clarion South has changed my life, for the better. I’ve met people on the other side of the world, had the opportunity to live in a culture that’s not the one I grew up in, acquired a lot of interesting new vocabulary. I’ve learned so much about myself — both strengths and weaknesses — as a person and as a writer. I’m a better writer, and a better reader. I would do it again, in a hot second.”

Tuition: AUD$2800 (Australian currency)
Housing: included with tuition fee
College Credit: n/a
Application Fee: AUD$35.00 (non-refundable)
Application Deadline: February 2011 (applications open in February, deadline unknown at this time)
Workshop Schedule: Six weeks starting in January
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Number of Participants: 17
Founded: 2004
URL: www.clarionsouth.org

Odyssey Writing Workshop (Last updated: December 2012 for 2013 workshop)

Odyssey is another well-respected six-week writing workshop, but one of the ways it differs from Clarion and Clarion West is that the entire learning process is overseen by one instructor, editor Jeanne Cavelos. “A single instructor guides you through the six weeks, gaining in-depth knowledge of your work, providing detailed assessments of your strengths and weaknesses, helping you target your weaknesses one by one, and charting your progress,” Cavelos said. “Some other workshops provide a series of instructors, which leaves you without any continuity of feedback to help you understand whether you are improving or not.” Also, where the Clarion workshops focus on short fiction, Odyssey allows students to work on both short fiction and novels, in the genre of science fiction, fantasy, or horror.

Workshop Director Cavelos is a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, and Odyssey is the only six-week workshop that has an editor’s guidance throughout. Cavelos says that her experienced editorial perspective is key to the learning process and enables her to help writers find the writing process that will best work for them.

But going to Odyssey doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on being tutored by genre luminaries. Each week of the program, a different guest writer or editor spends a period of 24 hours with the students, providing additional instruction, and Odyssey also features a writer-in-residence who teaches and works with students for an entire week. Past instructors include: Harlan Ellison, Dan Simmons, Ben Bova, George R. R. Martin, and Terry Brooks, among many others. The 2010 writer-in-residence is Laura Anne Gilman.

Fifty-eight percent of Odyssey graduates have gone on to be published professionally, according to Cavelos. This is the highest percentage of post-workshop success reported by any of these programs. “I believe the journey to become the best writer you can be is a lifelong one,” Cavelos said. “At the end of Odyssey, your journey will not be done. Yet I’m constantly told by graduates that they learned more at Odyssey than they learned in years of workshopping and creative writing classes. The workshop helps you advance in your journey at a much accelerated rate.”

Cavelos notes that one of the big differences between Odyssey and some of the other workshops is that Odyssey offers an advanced, comprehensive curriculum covering the elements of fiction writing in depth. “With two hours of lecture/discussion each day (in addition to two hours of workshopping), Odyssey students learn the tools and techniques that make powerful writing,” Cavelos says. “While feedback can reveal a writer’s weaknesses, that writer can’t improve unless he has the tools to strengthen those weak areas.”

Published novelists who are Odyssey alumni include New York Times best-selling author Carrie Vaughn (seven books published by Warner/Grand Central, two from HarperTeen, seven from Tor), Barbara Campbell (five books published by DAW), Lane Robins (two books sold to Del Rey and four to Ace), Elaine Isaak (two books sold to Harper and two to DAW), James Maxey (one book published by Phobos Books, six by Solaris Books), Rhiannon Held (three books sold to Tor), Alex Hughes (two books to Roc), Justin Gustainis (three books to Angry Robot and four to Solaris), and Meagan Spooner (three books sold in an auction to Carolrhoda Lab and three books [co-written with Amie Kaufman] to Disney-Hyperion); in addition to this, Odyssey alumni have published over a thousand stories in a variety of anthologies and magazines, such as Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Odyssey alumni have also won major writing awards, including the World Fantasy Award and the Nebula Award.

2012 Writer-in-Residence:  New York Times best-selling author Nancy Holder
2012 Guest Instructors: Holly Black, Jack Ketchum, Patricia Bray, Adam-Troy Castro, editor Sheila Williams

Tuition: $1920
Housing: $790 double room-$1580 single room
College Credit: Available ($550 processing fee)
Application Fee: $35.00 (non-refundable)
Application Deadline: April 8 (Jan. 31 for early admission)
Workshop Schedule: 6 weeks, June 10 – July 19
Location: Manchester, NH
Max # of Participants: 16
Founded: 1996
URL: http://www.odysseyworkshop.org

Uncle Orson’s Writing Class & Literary Boot Camp (Last updated: January 2011 for 2011 workshops)

Uncle Orson is none other than bestselling, multi-Hugo and Nebula Award-winning writer Orson Scott Card. He offers two options for prospective students: (1) attend the two-day writing class; or (2) attend the two-day writing class, then stay for the extended training provided by the boot camp.

“Uncle Orson’s Writing Class is a two-day combination of lectures and exercises for 50-100 writers, offering a total immersion in story structure, idea generation, and viewpoint—the most important yet least taught aspects of fiction writing,” Card said. “The Literary Boot Camp, for 10-15 writers, starts as part of the Writing Class; when all the others go home, the boot campers write a story in a single day, then read each other’s stories and workshop them with [me].”

Though Card is known for his science fiction writing, writers of any genre are welcome to attend. Boot Camp participants must provide a brief writing sample to be admitted to the course. For the Writing Workshop, no sample is necessary; anyone 18+ is welcome to attend.

Boot Camp success stories include author Mette Ivie Harrison, who sold two novels to Viking (a division of Penguin Putnam). Other graduates have sold fiction to Analog, Strange Horizons, and have been finalists in the Writers of the Future contest.

One of the workshop’s primary advantages is its short length and affordable pricing. “You don’t have to quit your job to attend,” Card said, “or get a second job in order to be able to pay for it.”

Due to increased interest in the bootcamp, Orson Scott card has decided to hold two different sessions in 2010. Details below.

Tuition (Writing Class): $175
Tuition (Boot Camp): $725 (includes cost of Writing Class)
Housing: varies
College Credit: n/a
Application Fee: n/a
Application Deadline: May 27, 2011
Workshop Schedule: August 8-9 (Writing Class); August 8-13 (Boot Camp)
Location: Sheraton Four Seasons Hotel/Joseph S. Koury Convention Center in Greensboro, NC
Max # of Participants: 15 (for Boot Camp, unlimited for Writing Class)
Founded: 2001
URL: www.hatrack.com

Viable Paradise (Last updated: January 2013 for 2013 workshop)

Viable Paradise is a week-long residential SF/F workshop, set against the backdrop of Martha’s Vineyard. The workshop uses a rotating cycle of established professional writers and editors.

Instructor James D. Macdonald says that Viable Paradise fills the void between the one-day or one-weekend workshops and the six-week workshops. “The former can’t go into depth; the latter require more time than many people can take away from their jobs or home lives,” Macdonald said. “We are [also] one of the few workshops that deals with novels as well as short stories.”

Viable Paradise has a four to one student to instructor ratio, and the instructors and students both live in the same location. “Students get a great deal of individualized interaction with professional writers and acquiring editors, during and after formal class hours,” Macdonald said.

Viable Paradise graduates have been nominated for the Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and have sold short fiction to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and have been reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction (ed. Gardner Dozois). VP graduate Sandra McDonald recently received a two-book deal from Tor Books.

2013 instructors: James D. Macdonald, Debra Doyle, Sherwood Smith Steven Brust, Elizabeth Bear, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Steven Gould

Tuition: $1100
Housing: $175/night + tax or $155/night + tax (2012 rates; check with hotel for 2013 rates)
College Credit: n/a
Application Fee: $25.00 (non-refundable)
Application Period: Jan. 1 – June 15
Workshop Schedule: October 9 – October 15
Location: Martha’s Vineyard, MA
Number of Participants: 24
Founded: 1995
URL: www.viableparadise.com

The Center for the Study of Science Fiction Workshops (Last updated: December 2009 for 2010 workshop)

The CSSF SF Writers Workshop is a two week workshop held annually at the University of Kansas. Students can expect to have three stories workshopped, and will revise one story for week two based on workshop feedback. Workshop directors James Gunn and Chris McKitterick critique student stories, along with contributions from a variety of authors and editors, which often includes luminaries such as Frederik Pohl and the winners of the Campbell and Sturgeon Awards (the awards are presented at The Campbell Conference, an academic forum that concludes the workshop).

McKitterick says that those who are just starting to publish or those who need that little bit extra to begin publishing will get the most out of the workshop, though all others are welcome to apply.

Gunn adds: “The rationale for our workshop, incidentally, has been that six weeks is a long time for many aspiring writers, particularly those with jobs or family responsibilities, and a weekend or a week is too short. Two weeks allows us to critique three already-written stories and revise one, and discuss craft or genre issues raised by the stories in hand, and even, when there is time, do an exercise or two in revision or focus on a particular aspect of writing or SF craft. Two things are essential to improvements in writing: feedback and revision.”

The Center also offers an SF Novel Writers Workshop, which runs concurrently with the short fiction workshop, and is led by Sturgeon Award-winning author Kij Johnson. Students can expect to have three-hours of manuscript critiquing each afternoon and the rest of the day for writing and/or recreation. All students are expected to revise at least one chapter and their novel’s outline during the course of the workshop.

About the novel workshop, Johnson says: ” The novel workshop is designed for beginning or newer novelists, though we have had several attendees with published novels. Writers submit three chapters and a working outline or synopsis for a novel in progress, and the workshop develops the materials through conventional workshopping, directed discussions, brainstorming sessions, and assignments. Most attendees leave with significant revisions or even new directions for their novels.”

The Campbell Conference, devoted to a single issue in science fiction, concludes the workshops, where the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award are presented. Gunn adds: “Some writers have stayed around to take our two-week intensive SF class that follows the Conference. This year we’re teaching the SF novel with a reading list of 25 novels.”

A number of writers who have studied under the tutelage of James Gunn have gone on not only to publish numerous stories and novels, but to win the field’s most prestigious awards. Among these are multiple award-winning authors Pat Cadigan, Bradley Denton, and John Kessel. Also, two graduates of the CSSF SF Writing Workshop won the grand prize in the Writers of the Future contest. Gunn notes that a story written for last summer’s workshop, K. C. Ball’s “Flotsam,” has been bought by Analog, and Kij Johnson’s “28 Monkeys, and the Abyss,” written for the workshop two years ago and published in Asimov’s, won the 2009 World Fantasy Award.

Tuition: $500
Housing: $266 – $532
College Credit: Available (to earn credit, add KU per-credit costs)
Application Fee: n/a
Application Deadline: June 1
Workshop Schedule: July 5-16 2010
Location: University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Number of Participants: 10-12
Founded: 1988 (with earlier incarnations going back to the mid ’70s)
URL: www.ku.edu/~sfcenter/courses.htm

Taos Toolbox (Last updated: December 2012 for 2013 workshop)

If Clarion or Odyssey is like a bachelor’s degree in writing science fiction and fantasy, then Taos Toolbox would be a master’s degree in the same. Author Walter Jon Williams–the administrator and primary instructor of the workshop, said of the program, “We’re looking for students who have already attended a major workshop, or who have sold a few stories and then stalled, or who want to reconnect with the workshop experience. We’re looking for students who have already learned the basics, and are ready to move to the next level.”

Taos Toolbox is almost unique in that it doesn’t deal exclusively with short stories, Williams said. “Though we’re happy to read short fiction, we welcome longer works as well. Much of our time is spent on teaching the students plotting and pacing, topics that most writing programs ignore completely. Students should leave the workshop with a better idea of how to structure fiction, to bring their characters into sharper focus, and to integrate the special subject matter of fantasy and SF into the narrative.”

Toolbox graduate Traci Castleberry said that writers who are near publishing but still missing something from their work, are ideal candidates for the workshop. “Or those that are perhaps post-Clarion or Odyssey that need a jump start to get going again, or those that have a novel or most of a novel and are stuck.”

Christopher Cevasco, another graduate of the inaugural class, said Taos Toolbox was everything he was hoping for and more. “In two weeks I acquired what felt like years’ worth of experience about the craft of novel writing,” he said. “Walter Jon Williams and Connie Willis were among the very best writing instructors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with–truly outstanding.”

Castleberry and Cevasco both also previously attended the Clarion Workshop. When asked to compare the two programs, Castleberry said, “Compared to Clarion, we worked equally hard, because our time was just as full with critiquing and coming up with something new to submit by the second week. The workshops themselves were similar, with lectures in the morning and critique circles in the afternoon.” Cevasco added: “Clarion [was] an invaluable experience focusing on short story writing. Taos was structured the same way and was every bit as valuable–basically it was like Clarion for novelists.”

2013 instructors: Nancy Kress, Walter Jon Williams, and special lecturer Melinda M. Snodgrass.

Tuition: $2900 (application received by Jan. 1); $3100 (application received by Feb. 1); $3300 (application received after Feb. 1)
Housing: included
Meals: included
College Credit: “We will do our best to cooperate, but you will have to arrange this with your university.”
Application Fee: $35
Application Deadline: “When the workshop fills, but the sooner the better.”
Workshop Schedule: July 28-August 10
Location: Taos Ski Valley, NM
Number of Participants: 18
Founded: 2007
URL: www.taostoolbox.com

Launch Pad (Last updated: January 2012, for the 2012 workshop)

Unlike Odyssey or Clarion, Launch Pad isn’t workshop for aspiring writers about writing, it’s a workshop for established writers about astronomy and science, says workshop director Mike Brotherton. “Clarion instructors are the applicant pool rather than those who would apply to Clarion,” he says. The workshop, which was funded by NASA for its first four years of existence, is now funded by The National Science Foundation. So the workshop is free, or nearly free, for attendees; Launch Pad even covers airfare for attendees who request it.

The workshop consists of a week-long crash course in modern astronomy that includes lecture, lab exercises, first-hand experiences with professional telescopes, and discussions about how to present scientific concepts effectively to general audiences. “Ideally we’re looking for writers with larger audiences who are looking to include more and more accurate astronomy in their work in the near future,” Brotherton says. “While science fiction writers are the majority of applicants, we’re also looking for writers/editors of all kinds who would benefit from this experience.”

Brotherton says that the workshop was sold to NASA based on the idea that it could help educate the public about space science and inspire future scientists by better educating the writers who reach the public.  “My background as both an astronomy professor and science fiction writer make this a natural marriage of my passions,” he says.

The workshop is held in Laramie, Wyoming. Most of the workshop activities will take place at a local university campus; lodging will be provided for students at university dorms.

2010 graduate Genevieve Valentine (author of Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti) says of the workshop experience: “Launch Pad is unique among SF writers’ workshops in that it doesn’t focus on writing—it’s more about pulsars, less about pacing. However, it’s an invaluable tool for SF writers: in addition to the academic benefits of an astronomy boot-camp, it helps to instill the same excitement and wonder about discovery that a good SF instills in the reader.”

The 2012 workshop will feature Geoffrey A. Landis as the guest instructor.

Brotherton says that Launch Pad is particularly interested in female and minority writers who have been historically under represented in the physical sciences and hard science fiction, though all are welcome to apply.

Tuition: Free
Housing: Provided
College Credit: n/a
Application Fee: None
Application Deadline: March 31 (Applications open March 1)
Workshop Schedule: July 22-29
Location: Laramie, WY
Number of Participants: about 12-14
Founded: 2007
URL: www.launchpadworkshop.org

Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers (Last updated: December 2009 for 2010 workshop)

Alpha is a ten-day residency workshop restricted to young writers (ages 14 – 19). Workshop administrator Diane Turnshek says it’s designed to be a gentle introduction to workshopping. “It’s the only workshop of its kind in the world. Alpha is shorter than Clarion or Odyssey, just long enough to write a single new story,” she said.

Ideal for young beginners, Alpha takes the age of its participants into consideration, while still creating an intense learning experience. “We take a whole day for arrivals and getting to know each other and the campus. The obligatory manuscript format talk kicks off the ten-day workshop. Critiques of the submission story are done by email prior to the workshop,” Turnshek said. “Each student writes a new story and has it critiqued before they revise it, with step-by-step processes explained in small studio groups.” Four professional authors also participate in the workshop; they each attend for two days, and provide lectures and assist in the learning process.

The 2010 workshop will feature instructors Holly Black, Timothy Zahn, Tamora Pierce, and Mike Arnzen. Author Tamora Pierce has been at each workshop to date. Past instructors include Timothy Zahn, Harry Turtledove, Charles Coleman Finlay, Tobias S. Buckell, Catherine Asaro, Gregory Frost, Wen Spencer, Bruce Holland Rogers, Theodora Goss, Michael Arnzen, Leslie What, Christopher McKitterick, Lawrence C. Connolly, Timons Esaias, William Tenn, Carl Frederick, Michael Kandel, James Frenkel, and Sheila Williams.

Though all the participants are young, the extent of their experience—in both life and in writing—is quite varied. “We’ve had students who have never slept away from home before and ones who are summer camp junkies,” Turnshek said. “Some students have never been told their work is anything less than perfect; some have pro writer mentors and have been critiqued for years.”

After the workshop is concluded, the students attend Confluence, a small, literary science fiction convention of around three hundred people.

Alpha graduate Thomas Seay has sold to Realms of Fantasy and Boy’s Life. Fellow graduate Michail Velichansky won first place in the first quarter of the 2005 Writers of the Future contest, and was twice a finalist for the Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Fantasy and Science Fiction Writing. Alpha students have sold to Fantasy Magazine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Fantastic Stories, Corpse Blossoms, Aberrant Dreams, Clarkesworld, and Fantastical Visions and regularly sweep the Dell Magazine Awards.

Tuition: $995
Housing: Housing, Food, Local Transportation included with tuition
College Credit: n/a
Application Fee: $10
Application Deadline: March 1, 2010
Workshop Schedule: July 14-23, 2010
Location: University of Pittsburgh, Greensburg, PA (Branch Campus)
Founded: 2001
URL: alpha.spellcaster.org

Shared Worlds (Last updated: December 2010, for the 2011 workshop)

Shared Worlds is a two-week writing workshop for teen writers. Workshop director Jeremy L. C. Jones says that you could think of it as a “pre-Clarion.” “Clarion and Odyssey are pre-professional programs. Shared Worlds is as much about collaborative creativity as it is about creative writing. The program focuses on giving students the space and resources to work together, to build and create together. Sure, they have direct access to writers like Holly Black and Jeff VanderMeer, but I still think the thing that makes Shared Worlds unique is that we put creative, bright students together with other creative, bright students and we say, ‘All right folks, go build a world from the ground up.’ I’ve taught in a lot of classrooms – from elementary to college – and I’ve never seen a program that takes ‘student-centered’ and ‘interdisciplinary’ so much to heart. We have created an environment that encourages every student to bring his or her strengths to the table…and, at the same time, encourages students to test out and improve upon their weaknesses.”

One of the things Jones says he hears from parents time and time again is that the students feel like Shared Worlds offers them a chance to finally meet other young people just like them. “These are young people who think reading is cool. Who would rather go to the bookstore on a Saturday night than to a movie or the mall. These are kids who cheer when we take a field trip to a midnight book release,” Jones says. “I’ve taught in a high school, and I know how rare it is to be surrounded by people who get enthusiastic about reading and writing. (I wish that rarity weren’t so, but in my experiences it is true.) We wanted to create an environment where students felt like they could be themselves and bond with other students who were into the same stuff. I think we underestimated how powerful the experience would be for them. Students get a lot intellectual and creative freedom at Shared Worlds… Jeff VanderMeer calls this a ‘teen think tank’ and he is dead on! Shared Worlds is a place for students to get in a group and share ideas and negotiate and solve problems collaboratively. There’s a lot of room to experiment with idea in a safe and supportive environment. And the results really blow us away.”

Shared Worlds director Jeremy L. C. Jones says, “There really isn’t a camp like Shared Worlds anywhere. We compress a liberal arts education into two weeks, bring in professional writers, give the students the run of Wofford College’s educational resources, and… let the students take care of the grand business at hand: building an imaginary world and sharing it with their peers. I mean, come on! You get to build a whole world in two weeks! Your world, you and your peers. Pretty cool, no?”

Tuition: $2000 (early bird); $2,250 (paid after May 1)
Housing: included in tuition, on-campus housing in Wofford College residence halls
College Credit: N/A
Application Fee: N/A
Application Deadline: May 1, but will continue to admit afterward if space is available.
Workshop Schedule: July 17-30
Location: Spartanburg, SC @ Wofford College
Number of Participants: 30 (approximately)
Founded: 2008 by Jeremy L. C. Jones and Jeff VanderMeer
URL: http://www.wofford.edu/sharedworlds

SuperStars (Last updated: January 2014, for the 2014 workshop)

Unlike the other workshops listed here, which all focus on craft, SuperStars is a career-building and business oriented seminar. Instructor Kevin J. Anderson says that it “gets into the nuts-and-bolts of both indie and traditional publishing, with emphasis on contracts, copyright, networking, productivity, and intellectual property.”

And what can a student hope to get out of SuperStars? “You’re getting three solid days of instruction from six international bestselling writers, editors from two major publishing houses, a copyright attorney, the head of a global marketing research company, and the head of one of the largest electronic publishing distributors,” Anderson says. “Students get a clear insiders understanding on all sides of the publishing and writing business.”

Newcomers beware: SuperStars is not a beginners’ workshop. “We expect that you already know how to write and are serious about taking your career from being a hobby to being a profession,” Anderson says. “We also have many established writers who come in order to get a better understanding of the business.”

SuperStars originated when the original instructors—Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, Eric Flint, James Artimus Owen (who were all already bestselling authors)—met to help one another out. “We realized that we had a lot of common-sense and in-depth information to share,” Anderson says. “[So the seminar] focus[es] on the things we wish some pro had told us when we were starting out.”

Some notable graduates of SuperStars include: Brad Torgersen, Elaine Isaak, Mignon Fogarty (aka “Grammar Girl”), Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells

Tuition: $849 (or lower, with student or early-bird discounts)
Housing: hotel, group rate $99/night
College Credit: n/a
Application Fee: n/a
Application Deadline: date of seminar
Workshop Schedule:  Feb 6-8, 2014   Feb 5-7 2015
Location: Colorado Springs
Number of Participants: approx 60
Founded: 2009
URL: www.superstarswriting.com

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This article originally appeared in Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2007. Entries are updated annually (with a notation indicating when updates are entered). If you are affiliated with one of these workshops, and you would like me to update the article, please contact me.

Discussion

  • [...] their guidelines. I read dozens of books on writing. I took writing classes in college. I attended writers workshops, such as Clarion. I wrote and submitted regularly, and collected dozens of rejections, and [...]

  • [...] a note to point out that I’ve updated by article Basic Training for Writers, which is an overview of all the various SF/Fantasy writing workshops (Clarion, etc.). It’s [...]

  • David Booker

    5:35 pm Feb-25-2008

    Thank you for the information you provide on this site. You should promote it in your rejection letters. I will pass the site along to members of a writing group I facilitate. I do wish there was a week-long program closer to where I live. Requirements of job and life make it harder for me to spend even a week away, but might be able to if it were closer to Tennessee. Also, I thought there was a week-long program at the University of Kansas, started by James Gunn, I believe. Do you have any information on that. Again, thanks.

  • Bob Petrie

    1:08 pm Feb-26-2009

    This writing thing seems like a lot of hard work.

    I’ve never written before but was hoping, and expecting, that one day I’d carve out a weekend and just bang out a hit novel. Is that not going to happen?

    If not, I thank God there are people that are willing to put in the work.

  • Cat Rambo

    1:20 pm Feb-26-2009

    Very useful information for people contemplating the workshop experience — thank you for posting this.

  • [...] Here’s a little bit about the workshop, from my article “Basic Training for Writers“: [...]

  • Omar

    6:39 pm Sep-28-2010

    Is it the guidance of these specialised published genre writers that you propose as being so helpful, or is it the usefulness of workshops themselves? I’ve recently completed a writing degree at the University of Technology, Sydney, which included a stint at the University of East Anglia, UK, and which in large part consisted of workshopping. I did that for three years. Now, granted the lecturers weren’t published genre writers (although most of them were published to some degree, were editors, etc) and granted, it was usually one workshop per semester and I had other unrelated classes and assignments, but I didn’t find it to be revolutionary. I think the workshop process is incredibly beneficial, don’t mistake me, I’m just wondering if any of these particular “boot camps” would be helpful to me?

    For the money being asked for, I might as well go the extra distance and just get a Masters, no?

  • John Joseph Adams

    9:27 pm Sep-28-2010

    Omar, I would venture to say that you’d learn more about writing from Clarion than you did in your entire bachelor’s degree program. (No offense to your writing program, I’d say that’s true of any writing program, based on the quantum leaps I’ve seen some Clarion graduates make after attending.)

    I’d say, if you want to teach, get a masters; if you want to write, go to Clarion. (Or one of the others.)

  • Jake Kerr

    11:09 pm Sep-29-2010

    I’m attending Viable Paradise starting on Sunday. It will be interesting for me, as I live in Dallas, and there’s an exceptional writing community there with a very organized critique program (The Writer’s Garret), so I’ve been regularly taking part in “live” critiques for over a year now. The ongoing nature of people critiquing your work for months compared to the intensive nature of being immersed with people critiquing your work very closely for one week will be very interesting to me.

    I had no idea that Orson Scott Card had a writing workshop. I took part in a one session workshop with him at an SF convention in the late eighties, and he was fantastic.

    I do believe that there are different paths to the same goal. I’m a product of an English department of a high caliber that has produced a number of excellent writers–from E.L. Doctorow to Laura Hillenbrand–but the program is just that: English Literature. Still, the process of studying the basics of what makes great writers great really has an impact on how you can use that yourself as a writer. At least it has for me. For others, and MFA from the Iowa Writer’s workshop may be the path, as it was for Justin Cronin and others. Still, others may find Clarion as their path, as you outline above. Ultimately, the path really comes down to the individual. You need to write, and you need quality feedback. Where that feedback is probably less important than the individual being open to it.