I guess Gaiman upset people with this?
First, can I offer an apology to the entire universe: for how hair-trigger sensitive the writer/author scene is? We are, as a class of creative folk, entirely too ready to fly off the handle at the smallest things. We are the very definition of people always seeking excuses to twist up our panties.
Second, Gaiman is simply expressing what all of us have expressed — from time to time — about our favorite learning experiences. I have evangelized for the Kris Rusch and Dean Smith workshops, the Dave Wolverton workshops, the Writers of the Future workshop, the Superstars Writing Seminar, the “Life, The Universe & Everything” symposium, and so on, and so forth. All of them have been very valuable to me, and remain valuable long after attendance and participation.
Can they be expensive? Sure. Can everyone afford them? Well, if you’re local to Utah, then LTUE is a steal, and ranks with any weekend program in existence, for pure, solid content. If you’re not local to Utah, but can afford travel and a hotel/motel, LTUE charges practically nothing, and delivers three whole days of some of the best panels (by the best professionals) any SF/F author or artist could want.
I never did Clarion, though I did dream of doing Clarion West, way back 20 years ago. In hindsight, I am glad I never did Clarion, just because I think the School of Hard Knocks taught me more about what I needed to know (for character creation and development especially) than a six-week, thousands-of-dollars resident program. Clarion, to me (now) seems like something only the subsidized or the independently wealthy can tackle. I mean, what grown adult can burn that much money, much less spare that much time away from work and family?
That doesn’t make Clarion bad. It just means Clarion is not an option for all. That it’s not an option for all, is also not bad. Ivy League degrees are also not an option for all.
But just like an Ivy League degree is not a necessity, if I may be so bold, Clarion is not necessary in order to become a professional author, either. Not even a professional SF/F author.
Especially since every workshop is a Your Mileage May Vary experience. Nobody gets the same results from every workshop.
And now that there are resident and on-line writing workshops by the dozens (hundreds, even?) it’s definitely a caveat emptor market. Which I’ve talked about in this space before.
I sometimes wonder if this isn’t just a matter of exclusivity. We human beings seem to be wired for dividing ourselves up into teams, groups, tribes, what have you. It’s in our blood. If any club or tribe imposes any kind of bar to entry — be it financial, social, or professional — that creates an exclusive environment. People like being exclusive. It’s the country club mindset. Due to the cost and time required, Clarion is very much a country club experience. I know many of the graduates and instructors would be unhappy with such a comparison, but it’s true. And as much as individuals may covet belonging to the country club, there are also just as many individuals who resent the country club. Which may explain a lot of the flack Gaiman has gotten for an otherwise harmlessly enthusiastic comment; about a program Gaimain clearly believes in.
It would be great if a Clarion-type experience were free. But running a workshop with that kind of scope and scale, is not cheap. And the truth is, there are people who will argue that it shouldn’t be cheap. That the high cost weeds out the dilettantes. So that only serious students, who are dedicated, will apply for acceptance. Clarion isn’t designed for wannabes. Clarion is for budding professional artists, who want to flower in an environment that will feed and nurture their professional artistry. Or at least that’s the ideal. And I definitely think Gaiman had the ideal in mind, when he wrote what he wrote.
Still, there is no royal road to publication and acclaim. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I suspect Clarion’s success rate is probably on par with just about every other workshop going. Which means two-thirds of Clarion’s graduates, won’t make it. They won’t sell. Or at least, they won’t sell well. They will find that life has other work for them, and they will move on.
So, if you really, really want it — sometimes, you simply have to get down on your hands and knees, and dig success out of the dirt in your own back yard. I myself believe the best thing any aspiring or frustrated author can do, is to just keep beavering away at it. Nothing replaces work. It’s true in every vocation. Which is how I prefer to view authorhood: a vocation. Blue-collar. I learned my trade in a long, often unrewarding apprenticeship that spanned the better part of two decades. Two decades which did not include workshops, until the very end. I had my ego smashed against the wall of reality several times, by the serial disappointments and near-misses. And I am now thankful for the humbling. Because it’s made the victories so much sweeter. I cherish every single publication, and every single check. Nothing is taken for granted.
Because I remember vividly what it was like when both publication, and checks, were still a fever dream.