Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop

Kate Wilhelm  - published August 2005

Locus Award Winner
Hugo Award Winner
An alternate selection of the Science Fiction Book Club.

Read Excerpts:

  1. Can Writing Be Taught?
  2. Trivia Vs. Writing Real Stories now available at the Online Writing Workshop.
  3. My Silent Partner at SF Site.

Writers on Clarion

ClarionFor 27 years, Kate Wilhelm and her husband, Damon Knight, taught at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, an intensive and ambitious six-week writing program for novice writers, known to participants as “boot camp for writers.”

Part memoir and part writing manual, Storyteller is Wilhelm’s affectionate account of the history of the program and her years there with Damon as mentors and instructors. She relates how Clarion began, explains why workshop participants fear red pencils* and rejoice at the sight of water guns, what she learned, and how she passed a love of the written word on to generations of writers. Storyteller is a gift to all writers from this generous and acclaimed teacher. It includes a special section of writing exercises and advice.

* See page 121 for the origin of “The Red Line of Death.”


“There are many books of writing instruction out there, but what sets Storyteller apart is the sense that Wilhelm really knows students and knows how to teach them to craft a professional story.”
The Oregonian

“A useful, compact, and entertaining guide to writing that is neither bound to a particular genre or market.”

“This book should be on the reference shelf of every aspiring writer. Not only is it a gift of insight and experience of a wonderful writer but it’s also a fine story of the growth of a renowned writing workshop. Highly recommended.”
SF Revu

“Teaching writing is a balancing act between compassionate encouragement and firm, blunt criticism. Kate is a master of it. The book uses reminisces about the founding, development and running of Clarion to frame a series of practical, plainly stated lessons for the beginning (and professional) writer. I learned a great deal reading it — something that can be accomplished in a deceptively short time, for Kate is also a master of simply and clearly setting out complicated, muddy issues, a skill honed both in her award-winning fiction (Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is a personal favorite) and in her long years of teaching.”
— Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

“Oh, but this is a lovely book…. Wilhelm fills Storyteller with lessons about how to write, and just as important, how not to write.”
Strange Horizons

“Its strength, I think, lies in some of the pointers she offers to beginning writers as to help them shorten the time it takes to get published.”
— New Pages

“If you are a budding writer, please spend $16 on this book before raising the money needed to attend Clarion. You’ll get much more out of the workshop if you do.”
— Emerald City

“For such a short book — just barely 192 pages — there is a lot here, and a lot that I’ve never found in other writing books, and it’s all on-point. It’s also delivered as part of the story of one of the most significant institutions in the history of science fiction and fantasy, as told by a true storyteller.”
— Green Man Review

“Satisfying in its own right, presenting an informative, and entertaining, blend of history, memoirs, and writing lessons.”
— Steven Silver

“This book should be on the reference shelf of every aspiring writer. Not only is it a gift of insight and experience of a wonderful writer but it’s also a fine story of the growth of a renowned writing workshop. Highly recommended.”
— SF Revu

“Full of pithy, relevant advice for writers, amusing recollections of the field’s current giants during their early days, and the fullest published account to date of how a revered program was established.”
Scifi Dimensions

Listen to an interview.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • In the Beginning
  • Years Two and Three
  • Two New Homes
  • Those Cryptic Marks
  • Supporters
  • Delegations and Confrontations
  • Let the Wild Rumpus Begin
  • Who Is That Masked Man?
  • Where Am I?
  • What’s Going On?
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Body Count
  • Please Speak Up
  • Beyond the Five W’s
  • The Days
  • Notes and Lessons on Writing
  • Writing Exercises

In 2005 we donated $5 from each sale of Storyteller through our website to the Clarion Foundation. In early 2006 we sent in a check for $850 — thank you readers for helping us help future Clarion Workshop attendees.

Reviews for Wilhelm’s previous books:

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang:

  • Hugo Award Winner
  • “Richly deserves the praise it won. . . . It richly deserves to be read—or read again—for its insights that remain startlingly fresh.” —L.D. Meagher,
  • “As well-crafted and sympathetic as it is scientifically rigorous.”—Nalo Hopkinson,
  • “The best novel about cloning written to date.”—Locus
  • “Wilhelm’s cautionary message comes through loud and clear.”—The New York Times

About the Author

Kate WilhelmKate Wilhelm was born in 1928, is the author of more than thirty novels including Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang andThe Unbidden Truth. Her work has been adapted for TV and film and translated into twenty languages. She has been awarded the Prix Apollo, Kurd Lasswitz, Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. In 2003, she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Her short fiction appeared in landmark anthologies such as Again Dangerous Visions, Orbit, The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women, and The Norton Book of Science Fiction.

A cofounder of the Clarion Writers’ Workhops, she continues to host monthly writing workshops in Eugene, Oregon.

Photo by Richard B. Wilhelm
Download for print.


Clarion. Clarion West.


Cover image © Corbis.
Download for print.

Previous Readings:

July 8-10, 2005 — Guest of Honor: Readercon, Burlington, MA

May 26-29, 2006 — Guest of Honor, WisCon, Madison, WI


2 Responses to “Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop”

  1. The Clarion Writers’ Workshop » Inkpunks on January 23rd, 2012 5:09 pm

    […] then-wife of the person who received my name, was also interested in writing, and sent me “Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop” by Kate Wilhelm. My interest in the workshop was rekindled; I applied in 2007 and again in […]

  2. You’re in, what next? 10 tips for preparing for the Clarion Writers’ Workshop | HARTLAND on March 14th, 2012 7:54 pm

    […] This is on the same theme – reading. It’s a bit more of a specific point, though. Storyteller reveals how Clarion came to be, how it changed over the years, and what the experience is really like.  Before I set off for San Diego, I read many alumni blogs, all of which give you a certain insight into the journey. But Storyteller gives you that and so much more. Pack it in your suitcase; it will help you stay sane while you’re there. And, at the end, you’ll have an appropriate keepsake for all your classmates to sign. You can order Storyteller directly from Small Beer Press. […]

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