By Helen Marshall
Today is the first official day of summer, and right now a bunch of young writers are hauling their asses out to Seattle to begin a great adventure. I know. I did it last year. And it was one of the most amazing, thought-provoking, wonderful experiences of my life.
But it was also scary as all Hell. Seriously. I remember setting off for Clarion West wishing that I could jump forward in time six weeks and just have it all behind me. Have the experience as a memory rather than as something ahead of me to endure. But, well, here we are, jumped forward a year and it is just a memory. A great one. And I wish I could go back in time now and be with those guys who get to do it all for the first time.
So, to help them through, here are my five foul-mouthed rules for surviving Clarion West.
1. Don’t be an asshole.
90% of being a writer is about being an asshole. I’m serious. We’re all assholes to survive. We’re assholes on a daily basis. We tell ourselves we’re fucking awesome. We tell ourselves we don’t need to listen. We tell ourselves we don’t need to care. Well, for the next six weeks, spend as much time as humanly possible not being an asshole. That means, when you start writing, drop your asshole guard. When you are start critiquing, drop your asshole guard. When you start being critiqued, drop your asshole guard. Just stop being a fucking asshole.
2. Surf the shit.
You are going to have so many people throwing so much advice at you. It’s like going on to Google and typing in, “I want to be a writer.” Everyone has something to tell you. Most of it is good advice. Most of it is true. Most of it probably won’t apply right now. File it away. Keep it for later. You don’t know what kinda screw ups people had to make to earn that advice for themselves so treat that shit like gold. And learn how to surf it. Don’t let it fucking sink you.
3. Don’t shit where you eat.
This is always good advice. Bear it in mind. Not only are you stuck with these people for six weeks–and I mean STUCK with them!–if you want to be a writer then you’re probably going to be stuck with them for the rest of your life. These people will follow you wherever you go. The world is small. It’s really small. I mean really fucking small. So learn how to smile. Learn how to smile when you don’t want to smile. Best advice I can give you.
4. Your shit stinks too.
It is easy to think that you are the king of the world going into Clarion West because–guess what?–for six weeks, you will be. It’ll feel like that. Hey, we even wrote a song about it! People are going to PAY ATTENTION to you like you have never been PAID ATTENTION to before. But don’t let it go to your head. When people tell you something is wrong, listen. Listen first, anyway. Discard what you don’t like later, but listen first. The stuff you are writing will not be perfect. It just won’t. Sorry. This is the chance to learn to make it better. And when you screw it up, just eat it. Just put a big fucking grin on your face and eat it. You’ll learn. You’ll get better. Say thank you. These folk are trying to help you become a better writer.
5. The corollary? Fuck it up.
There’s a lot of pressure to want to do things right. To want to produce the best story you possibly can because, well, the big guys are watching, and at the end you have to sit around and hear from everyone how exactly you fucked up. But go ahead and fuck it up anyway. You learn nothing from hearing eighteen people say you’re awesome. You learn a Hell of a lot more from eighteen people who tell you where you fucked up. And you’re here to learn, right? So fuck it up. Fuck it up royally. Go be the biggest writing fuck up you can possibly be! All you’re doing is giving someone the chance to teach you something you didn’t know. And that’s what you’re fucking there for.
Have fun, kids! I’ll see you in six weeks!