A Watershed Experience
For me, Odyssey was more than just worthwhile; it was a watershed experience. Calibration was its first function for me. Before I went, I’m embarrassed to say, I thought I was a good writer needing only a little polish. Well, I wasn’t. I did have strengths: ideas, and… um… er… Anyway, they were good ideas. But I was spotty in plot, weak in characterization and narrative description, and just so-so in technique. This diagnostic phase of Odyssey was crucial. The structure of Odyssey is two pronged: formal, solid coursework in the mornings, and round-table story critiquing afterwards. I needed both. I think most nascent writers could well do with both. I see many writers in the on-line critiquing group I’m part of (Critters), seriously in need of instruction but unaware that they need it.
Odyssey is an intense six weeks. I came out less cocky then I went in, but felt that I could, in a rough way, tell good writing from bad. And I had confidence that the instruction I was given, and the critical-analysis skills I developed over that month and a half, would work for me–would move my writing from amateur to pro. And if Odyssey could do this for me, a theoretical physicist who’d never taken a lit’ course in college, just think what it could do for someone who didn’t write his stories in crayons.
An important part of the Odyssey experience for me was the sense of community; I became part of a group of real, struggling, serious writers. Through the Odyssey alumni week in the summer, and the graduates’ on-line groups, that sense of community and camaraderie continues. We revel in each other’s successes and commiserate with the rejections. I value the supportiveness.
I attended Odyssey in 2000, and had been ‘writing’ SF for about two years before that. Before Odyssey, my fiction publications could be counted on one finger (a short story in a semi-pro). Since then, I’ve been both a ‘published finalist’ and a first-place winner in The Writers of the Future contest, had two stories in the Phobos prize anthology (and another to appear in next year’s), two stories accepted to Analog, and a couple more stories in less prestigious venues. And I’ve just applied for full membership in SFWA. By SFWA standards, I’m a pro. Incredible. It feels like a dream. Sure, Odyssey isn’t entirely responsible for my breaking in, but I regard it as the most important factor. As far as my writing is concerned, the decision to attend Odyssey was the best decision I ever made. I’m very grateful for Odyssey, and to its leader, our leader and coach, Jeanne Cavelos.