Emily Gilman

Making Stuff Up and Writing It Down Since (Before) I Learned How to Write

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Signal Boost: Alpha Scholarship Fundraiser

I’ve never been big on strangers. Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad when I meet interesting new people and make new friends. It’s always scary, though, to be in a room full of new people without a single familiar face. It’s even harder when that room is in an entire state full of new people, and when you’re staying there for days at a time.

But back in high school, when I read that Tamora Pierce would be teaching at a fantasy/sf/horror writing workshop for teenagers, I was both excited and nervous about the idea of applying. I knew I wanted to be a writer, and while I had friends and teachers who were happy to give me feedback on my writing, I needed more. On the other hand, I’d never been to sleep-away camp and never been away from home without any family or friends before. When I finally talked myself into it, my reasoning was pretty much that yes, strangers were scary, but if ever there were a group of people my own age where I’d be virtually guaranteed to get along with at least one of them, this was it. So I applied, and I got in, and I went.

Some effects of Alpha were immediate: I learned about how to format submissions and where to start looking for markets. I received a level of critique that I’d never encountered before, and it was hugely helpful in learning to see the flaws in my own writing and to work on learning how to deal with them, how to revise my work so that it was marketable. I also made friends — real, close friends, people I could talk to and relate to in ways that I never could with classmates at school.

Some effects of Alpha took longer to see: I met older writers, friends of Alphans who helped me feel welcome at conventions, who introduced me to their friends and colleagues and encouraged me to keep writing. I first heard about the college I ended up attending from another, older Alphan who’d applied there. When I went to college I already had one friend there because one of my best friends from Alpha chose the same school I did, and when I chose to focus on literature rather than pursuing a creative writing degree I felt confident in my choice because I knew I had a network of friends to encourage me, to read drafts and give me feedback, while I pursued writing on my own. Nine years after we met, I was Maid of Honor at a fellow Alphan’s wedding.

Alpha is a game-changer for a lot of us. It is also expensive. Not every family can afford the cost of the workshop, let alone travel to and from. That’s why Alpha hosts a fundraiser every year, gathering scholarship money to help make sure that any teen whose writing earns them a spot can afford to attend. Donate any amount, and you’ll also receive this year’s flash-fiction Alphanthology. And you don’t have to take my word for it: Neil Gaiman gave Alpha a shout-out in a recent blog post and past teachers have great things to say about the workshop, the students, and the positive effects both have on the greater sf/f/h community.

Actually, the fact that this Web site exists here in this form is thanks to several Alphans I’ve never met except online. We attended in different years, and we’ve yet to run into each other at a convention or other event. When I asked for advice on Facebook, though, they responded. What can I say? Like so many of the more experienced writers we’ve encountered, we tend to be fans of paying it forward.