Aleksandra (Ola) Hill is a Polish-Canadian writer of speculative fiction and the founder and editor-in-chief of khōréō. She is also an alumna of the Odyssey Writers Workshop. You can find her on Twitter at @_aleksandrahill
I decided to apply to Odyssey because I’d been writing and improving, but I wanted to write more and improve faster. The workshop promised to be an intensive experience, and I loved the idea of a crucible that would push me to change and grow beyond what I could accomplish on my own. I knew my stories had good ideas at their core (or, at least, posed questions that were interesting to me), but I felt like I had trouble sticking the landing—like there was always something left out that should be on the page, but I didn’t know what.
In preparation, I mulled where I was going wrong; a few weeks before Odyssey began, I thought I’d solved it: I have trouble connecting to people and can’t seem to understand them, and that is what makes my stories weaker than they can be. If I could just live inside their skin a little deeper, if I could just truly get in their heads—maybe even become a method writer, somehow—then, then I would get where I want to go.
I reached out to Jeanne immediately, and she shared a number of books she found valuable and a suggested reading order. I dove into the first one (The Art of Character by David Corbett), highlighting and taking notes and dutifully studying. I thought I was well on my way.
One of the phrases my mom always used when I was growing up, particularly when I was trying a hairstyle or piece of clothing of which she didn’t approve, was “a person can’t ever really see themselves.” I’d dismissed it as a teenager, thinking that this was just another tactic for her to get her way (and I think she’d admit it was)…but on seeing photos of myself from my younger years, I realized she was sometimes right, too. The mirror lied to me because my eyes didn’t see clearly—not every time, but sometimes.
During Odyssey, I realized that I didn’t see the right things when I observed my work—Jeanne, in becoming a mirror and new eyes for each student, helped us adjust our focus. We had three one-on-one check-ins with her, and in my first one, she laid my writing bare in a way that I’d never been able to perceive before. The trouble, she told me, was not with my characters; I have an apparent knack for dysfunctional relationships that might concern me if I didn’t find them so fascinating. Instead, she focused on plot and its interaction with character. Most importantly, she gave words to a thought that I’d danced around but never fully wrap my head around: unity. In a single conversation, a story I’d been struggling with fell into place.
I had a lot of revelations during Odyssey: some right, some wrong, all worthwhile. The focus of the feedback and the relentless way we were asked to interrogate our writing and that of our peers helped me test hypotheses and figure out how to implement changes when my hypothesis was confirmed. I still have a ways to go, but Odyssey gave me the tools to make the next steps on my journey.