They Kept on to Their Journey’s End, Or Random Thoughts from an Odfellow
There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.
Explaining the mechanics of the Odyssey workshop is easy. Asses in seats before nine o’clock. Two, two and a half hours of lectures from Jeanne Cavelos or a guest lecturer. A few minutes to breathe. Two hours of around the room on the manuscripts critiqued the previous day. Lunch.
After lunch back to the dorms or (better) an air-conditioned room on campus to read and critique the two manuscripts handed out that morning. Hell Thursdays, it’s three manuscripts. Then dinner. Then write. Then sleep. Maybe.
These are the mechanics. This is what you will be subjected to for six weeks. This is what you can know. The rest? You have no idea. I had no idea.
There is plenty of research to be done on Odyssey. You can find out what happened previous years (The Harlan Ellison Experience), you can read something the lecturers have published, you can even find an Odyssey alumnus and ask all sorts of questions. Still, you have no idea.
The Odyssey experience is one of discovery. Before Odyssey, I was writing on instinct. Instinct is good. Instinct is what allows you to come up with The Idea. However, The Idea is no good if there are no rules there to support it. Somewhere at the back of my mind lurked a few basic writing rules absorbed in school many years ago, while the language of my favorite authors (Gibson, Stephenson, Palahniuk, Coupland) was more accessible and clearly influencing my writing. But it all went nowhere. Characters had no goals, plots sort of meandered out into a big white nothing where they keeled over and died, fragmented sentences waited to trip a reader up. Then along came Jeanne, and The Discovery.
Many of you may know the rules of writing much better than I did when I plunged into the uncharted waters of Odyssey. Regardless, there is no doubt that each and every one of you will walk away from every lecture and critique session with some new piece of knowledge or some insight into the magic that is writing. The Discovery.
I cannot describe the awe I felt as I was allowed to peer inside the head of the writing goddess (she prefers Evil Overlord though) that is Jeanne Cavelos. She is a force of nature. A tsunami that will, inevitably, break down the barriers you have created in your head, barriers that have stopped you from truly seeing your stories. What they are, why they are, and most importantly how they can be transformed into something better.
I always believed I was my own harshest critic. Before Odyssey, I hadn’t submitted a single piece of writing anywhere, because I was convinced my work didn’t measure up. I was my own harshest critic. Right. Class, meet Jeanne Cavelos.
Every manuscript you submit to the class will be critiqued by your fellow students and Jeanne. When not lecturing she spends her time plotting world domination (expected around 2014) and critiquing. A typed crit from Jeanne is a full body scan, patdown and cavity search of your manuscript, and every single thing you have hidden in there, intentionally or not, will be dragged out and exposed in front of the class.
Jeanne does not critique with malice or ill intent. She will lovingly tell you every single thing that is wrong with your writing for two reasons: to make your manuscript better and to make you a better writer. Our first day, she said ”You are all here because I believe you can be successful published writers.” Awed silence.
This is her goal. To push you and make you see the brilliance hidden in your words. To give you the tools and confidence necessary to become a successful writer. You have been admitted to Odyssey because she sees in you the potential for greatness. When you’re stretched out in bed at midnight, melting in the New Hampshire heat (because whoever designed the dorms at St Anselm’s not only had no insight into the concept of air-conditioning, they also built them as traps for dead air), completely crushed by the critiques from your class-mates and Jeanne that day, remember that.
Since agreeing to write this essay, I have struggled to find words that convey what Odyssey is like. ”Once in a lifetime experience” is too obvious, though very true. You leave Odyssey changed, not only as a writer but also as a person. Writing is so intensely personal that applying change to it, to something that integral to you, will change the way you think and act when it comes to other things. This is the full impact of The Discovery. Be prepared for it.
You will also leave with lifelong friends. Like-minded madmen and madwomen with whom you will have spent many a night cursing manuscripts that won’t cooperate, laughing over whatever insanity is unleashed by a single word as the strain of each week piles up, or worshipping The Big Head on campus.
There were many words during Odyssey. Unlike many others, I also managed plenty of sleep. There were a number of theories how this was possible, but know this: I had a solid seven hours every night except one, and still I fell asleep in class every day of the last week. Exhaustion, thy name is Odyssey. Be prepared for that too.
The six weeks of Odyssey were a roller-coaster ride of inspiration, inadequacy issues, laughter, tears, learning and despair. Somehow, with Jeanne at the helm, we navigated through all this and came out the other side, forever changed into better writers and better people. I came away from Odyssey with knowledge I didn’t know existed and inspiration I’ve never felt before. Apply. Apply now.