Monday, January 20, 2014

My Experience with The Odyssey Writing Workshop

The cute wildlife at St. Anselm
The Odyssey Writing Workshop is already taking applications for this year's workshop. They have a fantastic lineup of instructors, including Elizabeth Hand, who was an instructor my year, the lovely Catherynne M. Valente, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Alexander Jablokov, and Gordon Van Gelder.

I went to Odyssey in 2007, shortly after I started writing and submitting seriously. At the time, I was struggling to improve my craft. I had submitted stories to a couple of different editing services, and the feedback was great, but I wanted--and needed--something more. I needed somebody to look at all of my work and tell me my strengths and weaknesses.

Odyssey is run by Jeanne Cavelos, an editor, scientist, and teacher (I swear, she has a time machine stashed somewhere in order to have achieved so much). She's passionate about writing and teaching, which makes for a wonderful experience. She cares deeply about each and every student's progress. She not only pointed out my strengths and weaknesses, but she gave suggestions for improvement. I still pull out the class assignments from time to time and work on them.

I also lived and worked with fifteen other writers at the workshop. They've been invaluable not only for their friendship, but for their help, suggestions, and in networking with other writers and with editors. They are a brilliant bunch, and I've enjoyed watching their progress and cheering them on over the years.

St. Anselm, looking ready to kick booty
Odyssey lasts for six weeks. The instruction is intense. There's little time for anything else, as you immerse yourself in writing. By the end, my brain felt like a wrung-out towel. I've used the term "life changing experience" in reference to Odyssey. It's so hard to explain, but it truly is. I had the chance to spend six weeks doing something completely and utterly for myself, to push myself, to push my craft, to make friends, to learn, to be amazed. If you'll allow me to sound a bit pretentious for a moment, it was a completely transformative time for my art.

Since I went to Odyssey, I've written countless short stories, a novella, and three novels. I've published ten short stories (with several forthcoming), one novel, one short story collection, and a non-fiction article. Without Odyssey and Jeanne, I would have struggled for a long time, trying to figure out the craft of writing. Worse, I might have given up writing altogether. For those considering a workshop, Odyssey will provide you with an amazing experience.

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