Have you ever jumped out of an airplane? Me neither, but I think I know what it feels like, at least the part before you actually jump, when you’re standing in the doorway, looking out over the land and the sky below you and thinking to yourself: ‘Am I really about to jump out of this airplane? Am I really going to make the leap of faith into this sun-filled abyss, trusting that I will float safely back down to Earth and live to tell the tale? Really?’
You see, I’ve been accepted to the Clarion Writers’ Workshop this summer, and I told them I would do it.
When I saw the email a week after the deadline I knew what it would say.
Thank you for your interest in the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Unfortunately due to the high volume of submissions we are unable to blah blah etc.
I’d hoped I might get a spot on the wait-list. I never for a minute thought I’d make the cut. Not with the roster of instructors signed up for this year.
But I did make it, much to my surprise. I spent the next week, until I got the confirmation email and saw my name on the website, thinking there must be some kind of mistake, that my elation was premature and that soon enough I would get the email explaining that the first one was a mistake and that they were really sorry, but…
Turns out that was the easy part.
eing a writer was always my dream, my answer to that perennial question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Actually writing turned out to be a bit more problematic. Thinking that something I’d done, something I’d made out of words and the stuff of my imagination might be good enough to submit for publication, well, that was a nice thought, but its actuality was always somewhere over the distant horizon, somewhere I might get to someday if I worked hard and ate my Wheaties, but really, who was I kidding?
It was a cozy little arrangement I had with myself, and I was very comfortable with it. I could sit on the airplane forever, looking out the window and thinking, someday…
Now I find myself standing in the doorway, parachute strapped firmly to my back, just waiting while the plane climbs high enough for me to jump.
It’s a difficult feeling to describe. Imagine equal parts fear and elation, with just enough disbelief thrown in to make the whole idea seem that much crazier than it already is, but not enough to provide any protective distance. When I think about it, I mean really think about it, my insides feel like they’ve been hollowed out and my guts replaced with this crazy dynamo of shivering semi-particulate electricity that I don’t have any idea what to do with.
This can’t be real. It’s real. People whose books and stories I’ve read and loved are going to read my work and tell me what’s wrong with it. They’ll offer tips and tools of the trade, advice on writing and the business of being a writer. Seventeen other aspirants, some of whom have already been published(!), are going to be right there with me. We will live together, work together, eat and drink and go at least a little crazy together. We’ll offer critiques of each others’ work, then go furiously revise based on those critiques.
We will be pushed outside of our comfort zone. We’ll try new things, and fail at at least some of them. We will be given the chance to see if the writer’s life is really the life we want to live, the life we’re meant to live. Not all of us will be, either.
Something like one-third of all the people who’ve gone through Clarion have gone on to become published authors. Since I got accepted I’ve read more explanations as to why that’s so than I can remember: it’s the quality of the instructors, or the students; the Clarion process of critique; the chance to take risks and try new things; the feedback when you do; the necessity to produce and the luxury of having six weeks to do nothing but write and think about writing and critique the writing of others. Or some combination of some or all of those things.
To tell you the truth, I have no idea what the answer is. What I can tell you is that, more than any particular element of the process, I believe the secret of Clarion’s success is the commitment it demands: the determination to do this thing and do it for real, to give yourself wholeheartedly to the pursuit of this dream, no matter how hard it might be.
To jump out of the airplane, trusting that the parachute will open and that when you land you will see things differently, because you will be transformed by what happens in between.
That’s what I hope, anyway. I’ll tell you when I get back.