Stephanie Burgis
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I've taken the leap! For the first time, I've signed up for the Clarion West Write-a-thon, from June 17th - July 27th. For six weeks, shadowing this year's workshop, I'm going to write my heart out. My goals are to finish the first draft of Kat by Moonlight and finally, finally revise one of the many short stories that's been sitting in my computer, first-draft and unrevised, for the past several months. Over the last year, I've gotten really bad about actually revising what I write so that I can send it out. I'm hoping that the motivation of the Write-a-thon will push me into finally getting it done! If by any chance I finish both goals well before the workshop ends, I'll throw in another goal to accomplish...but I'm trying to overcome my usual habit of setting impossible targets for myself. And if going to Clarion West taught me anything, it was that writing - and the writing life - is actually possible.

When I left for Clarion West, in 2001, I was absolutely terrified. I applied to Clarion West because I wanted the experience so badly - but when I actually got in, I was convinced that I'd be outed as a fake within days. On the first day, other students asked about my writing, and I choked up when I tried to talk about it - it felt like taking such an enormous risk, acting as if I were the real thing. I could happily ask about their writing - that was fine, they were real writers, I was an appreciative audience. But to talk about myself as a real writer...that felt impossible.

But that changed, because of Clarion West. My writing changed, too - and it's an amazing experience to see your writing improve so quickly. Normally, writing (at least my writing) improves gradually, over long periods of time. Visible improvement in just six weeks felt like the speed of light, something amazing and almost out of my control. But what made the biggest difference - what made the workshop literally life-changing for me - was the community I suddenly discovered. I'd never been to a con. I'd gone to a small liberal arts college with a creative writing program that sneered at fantasy as not "real" writing. I didn't know a single person who was writing the kind of book or story I wanted to write. The world of professional fantasy and science fiction writing felt like a bubble I just couldn't grasp. Until I went to Clarion. Through a magical combination of generous, supportive, teachers with ruthlessly high standards - and the belief that we could rise to meet them - and my sudden writing family of all sixteen other students in the workshop - something clicked inside me. For the first time, I believed that I really was a writer with a career and a community of friendships ahead of me - not just someone with a crazy, unrealistic fantasy. I believed it was possible. And I was right.

Clarion West only charges about half the actual cost of the workshop to the participants, and for people who can't afford even that, they offer additional scholarships. About half of the students are supported by partial or full scholarships, some of which (like the one that supported me) coming directly out of the Clarion West bank account. Without my scholarship, I could never have attended. And my life would have been so much poorer for that, in so many ways.

You can see my write-a-thon page here, with the opening lines from Kat at the top of the page. I really want to meet my write-a-thon goals this summer, and I would love it if I could also give something back to Clarion West at the same time. Patrick and I will be pledging what we can afford of our own money toward my goals this year, even though we're scarily broke, because it is important. What I want more than anything is for as many people as possible to get to go to Clarion West and have that amazing, affirming experience for themselves. If you can't afford to pledge anything, don't worry - I'd love just to have the emotional support of knowing that other people are also rooting for me to meet my goals this summer. But if you can afford to pledge even $5 or $10, there's a paypal button on my write-a-thon page where you can make the donation, which will be tax-deductible. Alternately, you can send checks directly to Clarion West (340 – 15th Avenue East; Seattle, WA 98112). If you do pledge anything toward my goals this summer, and you'd like a souvenir from it, just send me an email (to steph AT, and at the end of the write-a-thon, I'll send you a copy of the fresh new story I've revised.

And now it's time to take a deep breath...and get back to writing. :)

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