Writing Workshops and you, the writer

There is a bit of a kerfuffle going on in the writing community about the privilege of attending Clarion and a tweet from Neil Gaiman. It was a silly hyperbolic tweet about the value of going to Clarion. It was called into question as being unfair to those who lack the means to attend Clarion. The question and point were valid,  but the denizen of Twitter ran with it, and the discussion became cruel, contentious, and rude.

Every writer I know is looking for the silver bullet to success. Even incredibly successful well-published writers all live one story, one comic, one novel at a time between success and failure. To suggest that Clarion is THE means to achieve initial success for writers who can never afford the time or money to go. Well, I can see why that is depressing. It’s an emotional road block for an audience who is already dealing with the anxiety of how to find their way.

Everything I know about Neil is that he is an amazing person with a big heart. I certainly do not think that was his intent, and he was quick to point out it was not. It happens. Lord knows I have shot my mouth off or attempted humor and found myself holding a bag of salted assholes. I wish we were quicker to forgive in this community and question the strawpersons we are presented rather than indulge our worse selves. Myself included. I posted a snarky reply on Facebook about how quick we are to attack in social media and promptly hurt a friends feelings. Sometimes I really dislike who I can be on the internet.

Let me get to my point. I am particularly interested in this conversation because I run a writing workshop called Paradise Lost. We work hard to create a safe place for journey-person writers to come and hone their craft, have fun, and all while we are trying to stay affordable. We have a scholarship because we believe that everyone deserves a place at the table, regardless of their means. The event is volunteer-run, not for profit, and everyone donates their time to make it happen because we love what we are doing.

My opinion about writing workshops.

Clarion, Viable Paradise, Taos Toolbox, all great workshops. I think Paradise Lost is great too, but I am understandably biased. Lots of workshops are great. I could list a dozen I know of that I would gratefully attend if I had the time.

These workshops can teach us skills, build our relationships with other writers, and build confidence in our craft. That is without question of value to writers.

You know what they can’t do?

Sit your ass down in a chair and write. They don’t make you read deeply into your genre and beyond so you understand your art.

They don’t give you the discipline to write when you are fighting cancer, going through a divorce, working crazy long hours in your day job, caring for someone you love who is sick, or struggling to pay your bills. That’s on you, the writer. That discipline is what makes the difference.

Can a workshop, a writing group, or good connections help? Of course, they can. They do. They can reduce the time and distance between you and your goals. What they can’t do is make you a writer.

Jay Lake used to talk about psychotic persistence. That drive to succeed in spite of everything holding you back or in your way. That doesn’t come from a workshop. That comes from a heart that has stories to tell. Stories it must tell. You don’t need anything else but that drive to be a writer.


Writers write.

And if I can ever help you as a fellow writer, with anything, ask me. I can’t promise I can do it, but I can promise I will listen to you. We are in this together as artists. We’re more alike than we are different.

Be kind to each other,

Sean Kelley

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I could carry on about the ups and downs of this year, but all in all I have a lot to thankful for. It was a better year for me than I deserve.

There is much to be hopeful for in the coming year. I wish us all the success we seek and the wisdom to appreciate it. 

Happy New Year!

A little night music…

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Take it, it’s yours. It always was.

Mary asked, “What happens if I push the button?”

The man in the mesh-back hat unzipped a mouth filled with white tombstones and said, “You get a pizza. Whatever pizza you want most, Mary. It will show up here at your door in thirty minutes or less. For free.”

Mary looked back at Tom sitting on the couch watching football. Tom always wanted pepperoni and jalapenos. She hated fucking jalapenos. They gave him gas and all night long it was like laying next to a decaying corpse who would inevitably get up in the morning and leave. “Any pizza I want? How could you possibly know what I want?” she asked.

The man in the mesh-back hat laughed. “We know, Mary. Just take the box and push the button.”

“I don’t know if this is a good idea.”

“It’s marketing, Mary. We want you to have the pizza. You want a pizza. Just take the box and push the button.” He said, pushing the box toward her.

Mary shied back. “What if I don’t like it? What if you’re wrong?”

“Give it to Thomas, or the dog, or throw it away. We don’t care. Freely given.” He said, pushing the box into her hands.

Mary took the box and opened it. Inside was a clean white button. It looked inviting. Pushing it would feel definitive and precise, yet it would give under her finger with a satisfying squish, like crushing a bloated tick with a thumb.

“Okay,” she said, “Thank you.”

The man in the mesh-back hat shook his head, “No, thank you, Mary. Thank you.”



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