I’m not sure where I first saw the title of this book, but I remember it standing out. It may have been on Cory Doctorow’s twitter feed, but that’s not important. What caught my eye was not so much the title as the subtitle: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop.
I’ve spent the better part of the last year and a half vacillating between opinions regarding my future as a writer. I am currently writing professionally. I write these book reviews for fun (and to develop a personal brand that will be ever-so-appealing to future agents and publishers). And I work on my own fiction almost every day.
But I’ve got a hunger to study writing. I want to sit in a classroom and discuss the craft, read the words of my peers, and build a rigorous practice for myself as a writer.
The hunger led me to researching graduate programs in creative writing; specifically those that would be friendly to genre writers, considering the general sentiment among “academic” fiction writers and instructors toward fantasy and sci-fi.
But then I remembered hearing about Clarion, the six-week intensive workshop designed by and for genrefic writers that has been consistently churning out magnificent, successful writers for about 45 years.
And here’s a book by one of the women who was foundational in the workshop’s creation, writing about her own experience. I bought a copy without hesitation.
Storyteller is at once a memoir, writing textbook, pep-talk, and history. Kate Wilhelm’s writing is clear, engaging, entertaining, and honest. Her love for Clarion, its students, and speculative fiction as a whole. It’s hard not to get caught up in the thrill of the development of this unprecedented workshop, in the struggle as they were forced to move from university to university, in the confusion and emotional intensity that comes from sharing critiquing writing.
It’s a wonderful book, and would be regardless of its usefulness as a writing resource.
As a resource, however, I believe it to be tremendously valuable. The tips Wilhelm weaves within her stories, connected to examples of situations in which they applied, helps to ground her suggestions in reality. Oftentimes I will read pieces of writing advice, and they’ll go in one….eye? and out the other? How do you transpose that idiom?
My point being that there’s an additional weight to the advice Wilhelm gives in Storyteller. Something about the way she writes, coupled with what I’ve heard/read from so many Clarion alums, lends a degree of gravitas to her words.
Not only that, but they’re always kind, encouraging, and honest. It’s exactly what I needed to read to feel like this whole “writing” thing wasn’t a waste of time.
If you’re a writer, particularly a genrefic writer, you’ve got to get this book. Keep it close to you when you write. Leaf through it when you feel like you can’t write any more, and refuel with the gems of advice it contains.
Storyteller is available on Amazon.
Also published on Medium.