I’ve had the great pleasure of taking part in two different writing in-person workshops – Viable Paradise and Clarion. The comment that I hear most often, especially when it comes to Clarion, is that people would love to do it. If only they could afford the time and expense. I’ve mentioned before that getting the money together was a squeeze for me, too. But the time off was fairly easy to arrange because I live in Finland and I’m employed full time. That means that I get five weeks of paid time off as a matter of law. And because I work for a company that is flexible, I could make other arrangements for that sixth week. But I am fully aware that not everyone has that, not even in Finland.

The thing about workshops of this kind is that they condense a whole lot of work into a very short amount of time. In Viable Paradise, you critique five stories in three days, then in the same three days you write a new story then read two more of the ones written over the past few days. In Clarion, you critique 17-19 stories every week, while also writing a new story at the same time. That’s over 100 critiques over six weeks. Seeing that written down is making me exhausted just thinking about it.

The thing about critiques, both delivering and getting them, is that they really help you clarify what it is you are drawn to, what it is that you want to say. Every writer has their point of view and more than anything I’ve ever done, doing all those critiques while writing my own stories, helped me do that. I don’t hear that talked about enough, especially in connection with Clarion. Doing that kind of intensive thing will definitely forge a bond of some kind, and the relationships you form are important. But the thing that changes you as a writer is doing all those critiques.

That’s not to say that just doing 120 or so critiques will automatically make you a better writer. Trying to understand what your peer is doing with their writing and helping them achieve it is the trick. I will admit, that I for one have been slow to learn this. But there is something about getting 18 different points of view in a room to help a story be better that just changes everyone’s writing.

You want to do Clarion but can’t afford the time or the expense? Find a group willing to commit to writing and critiquing say, a story a month for six months. Each month everyone delivers a story and everyone else critiques all the other stories. It’ll be hard work, especially next to your daily life. When you still have to make sure you eat and sleep and all those other things. But I guarantee, it’ll be worth it.