Sherry Peters

Published by Wendy Dye on

The Odyssey Experience

This article originally appeared in WordWrap, the quarterly magazine of the Manitoba Writer’s Guild. Sherry Peters is a graduate of Odyssey 2005. Find out more about her here:

Attending the Odyssey Writing Workshop for Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror Writers was simultaneous heaven and hell. Heaven because I devoted six weeks to learning, practicing, critiquing, and polishing my craft. Hell because I devoted six weeks to learning, practicing . . . well, you get the picture.

As writers, many of us have known at least some need for procrastination, whether it be that the dishes need to be done or the children need our attention. At Odyssey, we had none of those distractions. As much as we needed–craved–distractions, there simply was not time for them 

Each morning we had three hours of class which included lectures from Jeanne Cavelos, Science Fiction writer and former editor at Dell Publishing, and two hours of critiquing stories of classmates. Each Friday we had a guest author come and give a lecture for the morning and then critiquing in the afternoon. Otherwise, afternoons were spent critiquing classmates work, completing practice assignments, and writing our own short stories. The majority of our writing was done on the weekends and late into the evenings. Odyssey is set up so that every student has a story critiqued each week. That’s a lot of writing for six weeks.

Consequently, we were all broken of the procrastination habit rather quickly. Key to ending the procrastination is learning how to shut up the internal editor until there is actually something there for it to edit.

The combination of lectures, critiquing, and writing a story a week, sped up the learning process for everyone. In a class of 16 from all over the United States and Canada, we all came to Odyssey with different strengths and weaknesses. Reading and critiquing each other’s work helped point out our own weaknesses and how they can be fixed.

And what can I say about Jeanne except that she is an amazing teacher. Each week was spent on a different topic including things like setting, character, plot, theme, and style. With Jeanne’s lectures, private meetings with Jeanne, and her guidance, each of us overcame many of our writing weaknesses and light speed.* Jeanne passes on what she has learned from her years of writing and editing experience. Each class is a wealth of information that would take each of us a few months or a year to learn on our own.

The class of 16 Odysseyers is the perfect size for critiquing, and for building a great community of students. Aside from myself, there was one other Canadian in the class. Frequently during critiques, our classmates would mention the use of Canadian phrases and I would search through the manuscript wondering exactly what those Canadianisms were. The only one I’ve been able to figure out so far is the word toque.

Our one big field trip was to ReaderCon just outside of Boston. This, I discovered, is much like our own Winnipeg International Writers Festival, except that ReaderCon is for Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror writers. Not only does ReaderCon have readings, and a great dealer room where new and used books are sold, but they also have panel discussion among writers discussing different topics in writing, such as the importance of secondary characters. As with ReaderCon, all of the American participants in Odyssey were frequent attendees of various conventions focusing mostly on writing. The genre version of our Writers’ Festival?

My Odyssey class was very collegial. Our critiques were given in a way to help each other improve, not to tear each other down. We supported each other whenever one of us was having a hard time. None of us competed with each other, which can so easily happen in such situations.

 I would recommend Odyssey to any Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror writer. It is the best gift you can give yourself. I have made friends and colleagues for life. Best of all, I spent six weeks devoted to my craft.

Wendy Dye