Riding in Cars with Authors

Every Friday night at Clarion West there is a party. These parties take place at the homes of local supporters of the workshop – wonderful, kind people who welcome students and local writers alike into their homes.

At these parties we were encouraged not to clump together with our classmates. There were strict penalties for clumping. Sometimes grapes rained from the sky to break us up. But it can be hard to break out of the comforting group of classmates and wander off to talk to an author you’ve been reading since childhood, or an author you’ve only just heard of, whose talk to the class on craft issues was so insightful and helpful that you took ten pages of notes.

The parties took place away from the sorority house where we lived and workshopped during the week. In order to get to these parties, we would depend on either Sarah’s bus-savvy, Alberto’s wonderful kindness, or we would ride with volunteers.

Many of the volunteers that drove us to the Friday night parties were writers. Some were Clarion West alumni, who gave us cheerful advice on how to survive. Some were writers we’d read and heard of long before coming to Seattle. Some were both.

Around Week 4 or Week 5, Vylar Kaftan came up to visit Seattle, and volunteered to drive some of us to the Friday night party. I signed up to ride in her car, along with my classmate Alisa.

Riding in the car with Vylar, Alisa and I got to talk to her one on one about Clarion West, about writing, about being an author in general. It was fantastic. I would have been too terrified to approach her at a party, but on the way to the party we had a great conversation.

I’m thinking of this because I recently read two awesome articles by Vylar posted on the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) Facebook feed. The most recent one is “Submission Statistics and Revision Habits.”

This post is so immensely helpful to me right now. When you come out of a workshop like Clarion West, you have these first drafts of stories that need revision. But you might also have tons of ideas for new stories, and new ways of telling stories. I feel torn between wanting to revise my Clarion West stories and wanting to start new stories. My Clarion West  stories feel the closest I’ve ever been to writing stories that I love, and I feel like they’re just a few paces away from being stories that other people would like to read, too. But I’m afraid I’m getting mired in re-working these stories too much, because it keeps me from writing new stories using the tools I’ve learned.

Vylar makes a wonderful point in her post about revision:

The amount of time it would take to bring an old story up to your current standards is usually better spent writing a new story. 

She goes on to point out that she is not advocating that writers avoid revising their work. But that once you start sending a story out for submission, that you keep it going until you either sell it or decide to trunk it.

 L. Timmel Duchamp, our Week Five instructor, told us how important it is to the writer to submit your stories. To send them out so you can begin writing new ones.

It’s good for you on a deeper level than being efficient and good for your writing. It energizes you and makes you feel like you are part of the writing world, even if the story doesn’t sell.

So I’m setting a goal for myself to revise my stories and submit them, but to also start writing new stories. Very soon.

I’ve heard people say that most people who want to write don’t publish not because they aren’t talented, or have interesting stories to tell. It’s because they give up. Somewhere on the road they decide to take a step off of the pavement and do something else.

For me, submitting my stories is like signing-up to ride with an author I’d like to talk to, but am timid to approach otherwise.

It’s another step forward.

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One thought on “Riding in Cars with Authors

  1. Ashley Cowger says:

    This is an excellent post. This is something I struggle a lot with. I'm so enamoured of revision that sometimes I use it as an excuse to not write anything new. It's so hard to “trunk” a story, or to work on something new when something old is still whispering in your ear. But you're right: it's important to be producing new work, and a new story built on the foundation of your curret abilities will inevitably be better than an old story written at an earlier stage of ability.

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