On Friday morning, my Twitter feed exploded for a few hours with various reactions on something Neil Gaiman posted about Clarion:
He also posted this:
Neil Gaiman is an award-wining, well-respected writer whose stories have been told in various forms of media (including short stories, novels, comic books, film) for decades. He regularly imparts writing-related wisdom via Twitter. I admire him and his imagination.
Clarion is a 5 week workshop focusing on science fiction and fantasy writing. It is well-respected, very prestigious, and, at $5,000 for tuition, room, and board, it is inexpensive for its location and duration. I didn’t know about it until Friday.
Neil Gaiman was speaking in hyperbole, as he often does (he hasn’t even attended Clarion). That latter post is the kind of advice I’ve seen most often from Mr. Gaiman. He is not the enemy here.
But the ensuing discussions brought to light something I wanted to work through and figured a blog post was a decent way to share those musings.
As a part-time, unpublished writer, I’m fairly confident most unpublished writers and new authors hear two pieces of advice from established industry professionals more often than any others:
- Don’t quit your day job.
- Attend every conference/workshop/online seminar you can (MFA programs are a bonus)
This is great advice when translated to: Don’t leave your source of steady income because being published doesn’t always make you rich and take advantage of every opportunity you can to improve your writing skills and get your story critiqued.
But you have to translate it. The untranslated version is simply impossible in most cases.
Lost in Translation
Because this advice is coming from people who work with words for a living, I think it’s safe to assume that the untranslated version is closer to the intent of the advice-giver. Here’s why my Twitter feed exploded:
For almost every part-time, new, inexperienced writer, these two pieces of advice are mutually exclusive.
Let me say that again: Most new writers cannot do both of these things.
Keep your day job but also be sure you can afford/take the time off for conferences, workshops (especially amazing, 5 week workshops like Clarion).
I work an amazing job. I could afford Clarion. I am not ALLOWED to accumulate 5 weeks of PTO. I will NEVER be able to go to Clarion as long as I am working full time as a non-writer. Ever.
Attend everything you can but if you’re handicapped, have kids, are a caregiver, etc. then sorry maybe next time because even though it’s 2016 and everyone has some kind of online presence the online, accessible workshops are few and far between.
And forget about aspiring authors working in coffee shops, restaurants, ice cream stands, and other part-time positions while they scrape enough money to live and enough time to write. Clarion is a bargain. Many weekend retreats in the United States are well over $1,000 without transportation provided. Still out of financial reach for many writers.
That post touched a nerve for all the people who are tired of hearing that advice and being left behind because we simply cannot attend the best workshops or programs. That’s why I joined Facebook groups like The 10 Minute Novelists, because they get it. They provide an amazing amount of resources from and for successful authors, unpublished writers, beta readers, etc. For free. Online. Whenever you want. Fantastic.
What Does It Take to Be a Writer?
K.M. Weiland often posts a beautiful hashtag called #YouKnowYouAreAWriterWhen and follows it up with some clever thing that makes me smile and say, “Yes, that’s what I do.”
But sometimes, I don’t relate. And you know what? I’m still a writer.
So how do you know when you’re really a writer?
You know you are a writer when… you write.
When you write prose, when you write poetry, when you blog, when you work for a newspaper, when you write screenplays, when you write short stories.
You know you are a writer when your writing is brilliant, your craft needs work, you write entirely in passive voice, your characters leap off the page but your world building is all but nonexistent. When your plot is compelling, your conflict stale, your antagonist cliched, your protagonist stereotypical, you’re on the 1st draft or the 23rd. You publish, you never show your work to another person. You’re a writer.
You are a writer when you put pen to paper, fingers to keypad, the story in your head onto something real that exists in the world outside of yourself.
You are a writer when you write. Not because you’ve attended Clarion, not because you’ve paid $100 for an hour-long online seminar, not because you’ve been to every writing conference within 10 states of your house.
You write? You’re a writer.
End of story.