I've been hesitant to try to write up anything describing my experience at Clarion, but Sam does a pretty fantastic job here (case in point: He writes, "You’ll be part of the Greater Clarion Collective Hive Mind, encompassing all Clarion UCSD and Clarion West graduates," and here I am, referring to someone on a first-name basis whom I only know through twitter/Clarion). Even if you have been in workshop settings before, I doubt that they were anything like the Clarion experience. You have less than a week to write a draft of a story, and then sit there while 18-20 other people tear it apart. But even the most painful criticisms are valuable and constructive. Having been in workshops before myself, I spent my first few days at Clarion carefully observing which of the people at this table actually had valid opinions worth a damn, or could actually write a halfway decent story. I quickly realized that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM lived up to my pretentious standards. And there's no one there who's going to go easy on you, or just kiss your ass -- everyone challenges each other, because everyone cares, and when its done, you come out the other side as a better reader, writer, and person.
Sam does a great job here describing the downside of Clarion as well: the sadness at its ending. When you return home, and have to go to work, and do chores around the house, and the difficulty of explaining this immense emotional experience to your loved ones who couldn't share it with you (as much as that distance may have ached, and as sweet as that reunion may have been).
Every harsh critique you might receive is easily counteracted by those moments when Robert Crais says, "Ya know, when I saw that someone wrote a detective story, I said, 'This kid's got balls," and I was really looking forward to tearing it apart. But your story here? This is really good," or when Kim Stanley Robinson shows up at your door with a watergun and a bottle of wine, or Cory Doctorow shakes your hand and looks you straight into the eye and says, "I'll see you around the writers' circuit soon." You leave Clarion with an incredible network of writers and mentors in various stages of your career with whom you've shared this incredible experience and whom you can always call on -- for recommendations, for feedback, for advice, or just for a beer.
So what I'm trying to say is what Sam puts so eloquently in this piece, which is that if you want to be a fiction writer in the "genre" fields, you'd be a fool not to apply to Clarion. It doesn't matter how good you are, or how far along you think you are -- just do it. I promise it'll be worth it.