The Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers is awesome. For proof, check out what previous students (including me) have to say about the workshop, or watch this video by 2011 student Aleka Gurel. Still, you might have doubts about applying. Here are some of the more common objections I’ve heard, and how I think you might get past them.
5. You don’t think you’re a good writer.
Maybe it’s because, when you read your favorite books, you wonder how you could ever possibly create something so magical and amazing. Maybe a teacher remarked to your parents, “Well, she isn’t really a writer, is she?” (That actually happened to one of my fellow Alpha graduates! She went on to attend Alpha and then place multiple times in the prestigious Dell Magazines Award.) Maybe someone else said something unkind. Whatever the reason, you doubt your ability as a writer.
Here’s the thing about writing ability: it changes. Right now, you are not the writer you will be next year, or in five years, or in ten. And even now, you may well be a better writer than you think you are. So, “am I a good writer?” is the wrong question to ask. Ask yourself, “Do I love to write?” If the answer is yes, then Alpha might be for you.
4. You don’t think you’re good at writing short stories.
Before my first Alpha in 2006, I concentrated on writing novels… well, one novel. Truth be told, I still prefer working in a longer format. But applying to Alpha, writing stories as part of going through the workshop, and later writing even more short stories in order to enter the Dells (which I would never have heard about if not for Alpha) turned out to be invaluable in helping me grow as a writer. Writing short means honing your ideas until they’re razor-sharp. It means making every word count. (At my first Alpha, guest author Theodora Goss told us that every sentence in a story should be doing at least two things.) And especially when you’re just starting out, it means trying new genres, new kinds of characters, and new ideas. You don’t have to write a perfect short story to be accepted into the workshop, so give it your best shot, and use it as a learning experience.
3. You live too far away from Pittsburgh, PA.
Students have come to Alpha from all over the United States. Others have come from the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. You don’t have to live nearby in order to come to the workshop and have a great time. Granted, flights can be expensive, which brings me to my next point…
2. You can’t afford the cost.
This is a big one. As you probably noticed, tuition is $995, and that doesn’t include the cost of transportation to and from Pittsburgh or a hotel at Confluence. (Confluence is the weekend-long science fiction convention that happens at the end of Alpha. It’s not required that you go, but I definitely recommend it!) The staff has kept tuition as low as possible over the years, but for many students, it’s still a bit much.
However, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. A limited amount of scholarship funding is available for students who need financial assistance in order to attend the workshop. If you ask for a scholarship on your application form, it won’t have any effect on your chances of getting in… the judges reading the application stories won’t know who asked for a scholarship and who didn’t.
1. Your parents will never go for it.
I know this feeling very well. My parents weren’t enthusiastic about putting me on a plane to spend ten days with people they had never met. But in the end, they did agree to let me come to Alpha, and I am so happy that they did. So, if your parents are dubious, invite them to read through the Alpha website (including the For Parents page), and let them know that they can always contact the staff with any questions or concerns they may have. (That being said, if your parents give you the green light and you do end up coming to Alpha… don’t forget to call home. Trust me on this.)
Any other questions about Alpha? Ask away in the comments, and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does. Good luck to everyone applying!