My year at Clarion was really the first wired year of the workshop. Nearly everyone had a computer -- those who didn't bring their own got brand-new loaner 486s from the college -- the sole exception being Nathan Ballingrud, who insisted on his beloved manual typewriter. I remember how expressive his manuscripts were, dark vivid keystrokes where he was on a roll, tentative, faint characters where he'd slowed down, faint hand-written corrections on the photocopies. We critiqued three or four stories a day, five days a week, for two to six hours, and I wrote a story every week. Our instructors varied from wonderful to ineffectual to out-and-out abusive. I had a modem and I spent a fair bit of time dialed up to GEnie, a primitive online service, keeping online track of what was going on at the workshop.
There was a fair bit of handwringing from the instructors over the idea that students were "wasting time online," gossiping and spilling the beans about the politics at the workshop. This theme continued in subsequent years as students continued to keep online Clarion journals, sometimes quite intimate ones that were critical of or wounded at the instructors. An interesting feedback loop developed one year, when instructor Lucius Shepard read a student's online journal and commented on it in person, prompting another journal entry and another conversation, which prompted another journal entry, and so on.
This year, a Clarion student has formalized the online journal process, putting up a portal with links to all the student journals. They're in their third week now, half way through, and the journal entries fill me with nostalgia. Taken as a body, the journal entries comprise a fascinating window into the hothouse of the legendary "sf writers' boot-camp." Six weeks at Clarion can change you forever. It took five years for me to overcome the writers' block that resulted from the amount of information I needed to assimilate after my year; Octavia Butler reports the same experience.
This year's instructor line-up is fantastic: Terry Bisson, Karen Joy Fowler, Tim Powers, Geoff Ryman, Leslie What, Patricia C. Wrede and Patrick Nielsen Hayden. I'd love to teach Clarion some year myself, though God knows where I'd find the time.
A word of advice to this year's students: The MSU library has all of the previous Clarion students' stories on file. If you're ever feeling down about your work and worried that you'll never make it, swing by the library and have a peek at some of the work that has preceded you. Check out Bruce Sterling's submission story, or Lucius Shepard's, or hell, check out mine. Everyone starts somewhere.