In fairy tales, the young hero (or, heroine) walks off into a bright morning and meets a crone. Or a poor traveler. Or a talking fox. Or a fairy in disguise. And they generally get some advice, and some magical object that may be useful, or useful and dangerous, on their journey. I always liked the part where the witch, or the peddler, gives the young man a cloak of invisibility so that he can follow the twelve princesses down to the land of enchantments and watch them dance.
Advice is very useful, because you can use it or ignore it as you wish, and either way it gives you a hint of what is up ahead. So, these are the things I'd say to someone who is on the way to Clarion, for what it's worth:
1. If you have the opportunity to go to Clarion, and you can make it work, timewise and moneywise, then snatch it up and run with it. If you aren't sure what Clarion is, then read through the website and just know that it is more wonderful and intense and exciting than they can possibly get across in tidy website language.
2. This worked for me, but may not be the thing for everyone: Don't get too buried in the pre-Clarion internet social madness. It's so much more exciting and delightful to properly meet your fellow travelers when you stumble off the plane, or into the room where you pick up your keys, or wandering around trying to find your apartment. There are the refreshing moments of awkward recognition, the fumbling conversations, the subtle slide into familiarity. You think I'm joking, but these things are wonderful. Or, I may just be internet-challenged.
3. Bring a few story ideas that excite you and creep around at the back of your head. I didn't do this, and each week was a bit like leaping off a high cliff and hoping that there would be a handy rope to catch on the way down. But don't clutch at your ideas. If something new comes along and follows you around, see what it has to say. It might be stranger and more fun to chase after.
4. Bring many pens. Stories and critiques eat pens like you would never believe. Or, be very clever, like Emily and Neil, and bring a fountain pen, with a bottle of ink to refill it.
5. Bring comfortable shoes because there is much walking to be had. Walk down to the beach and see the odd squirrel creatures that live there. Walk out to where the Torrey Pines Paragliding Center launches their customers over a cliff and watch a sunset. Wander around campus at night and look at all the strange sculptures. Try not to get lost while going from classroom to cafeteria, and if you do, just keep walking until you find a friendly looking person and ask them to point the way (likely behind the building that you had just passed three times).
6. Try to write a story each week. This causes sleepless nights, dependence on many cups of strong tea, and possibly panic as the story becomes more and more recalcitrant, but it is entirely worth it. Each instructor helps you to look at your work from a different angle. They stand next to you and focus the lens, just so, and suddenly you see all sorts of things that you can take in for that story, and also for the next. Also, if you write a story each week, your classmates get familiar with your habits. They know the direction you tend to lean, they figure out your weaknesses, and they are not fooled by how you might cover them up with things you are better at. They figure you out as a writer, and then they help you tell stories better.
7. Sunscreen is your friend.
8. You don't need to bring too many books. There is a very well-stocked library that looks like a spaceship and is named after Doctor Seuss.
9. Take copious notes. I've just read over my notes from the first week, and there were a couple pages about sentence structure from a talk with Kelly and Jim that I had already forgotten the details of (then again, I have a really dreadful memory. Notes are my friends).
9. Have enormous fun. In six weeks you will: meet several new best friends, have ideas and realizations explode your head every day, stay up much too late talking about impossible things, write and write and write, examine many stories closely so that your brain is forced to learn a bit about how stories work, and go slightly crazy so that you can see things properly again.
If you want to hear my Clarion mates, who are much more sensible and articulate than my ramblings, give their advice, have a listen to this.