I was fortunate enough to be asked to return last week to teach at the Odyssey Writing Workshop, my alma mater, four years after I graduated in 2011. It was an incredible experience to see the workshop from the other side of the table, to interact with the students, and to see student critiques. The people there are so bright, so motivated, and so willing to learn. It’s an incredible energy to be around them, and I wish I could be a part of that energy far more often. Writing can be a lonely affair, even at the pro level when you aggressively make writer friends, and Odyssey was–and will likely always be–one of my touchstones, one of the communities that makes this worthwhile. It was incredible to meet the new crop of Odyssey folks, and to share what I’ve learned in the last four years.
That was my primary goal in going this time–to share what I’ve learned, what I wish someone had told me when I sat on the other side of the table as a student. I taught a class called “Productivity for Writers: Practical Steps to Write More,” which was one part habit formation and three parts bouncing back from the inevitable challenges of life. I warned folks about the potholes in the writing road they’d inevitably encounter: the one-star reviews, the rejections, the occasional lack of respect and money, getting dropped by a publishing house. Then I told them that the industry was changing, and that even though this led to a lot of challenges, it also led to great opportunity: everyone here, after a little research and thinking, was as qualified as any so-called expert to make the decisions about their own career, to publish or self-publish, to market, and to reach readers. I had them read aloud Victoria Schwab’s amazing post Just. Keep. Writing. And then I talked about how to get unstuck when the world is crashing down around your ears, or your characters won’t talk to you, or your plot has holes you could drive a truck through. I made them promise to keep writing, no matter what. Because if you write, you have options. You have product. You have something to sell, something you control and something that’s yours. If not, you don’t. It’s that simple.
What I found most amazing about reading the critiques and talking to the students about their work is how far I’ve come. I remember reading other student critiques during Odyssey and knowing that something wasn’t quite right… but having no idea why. Or I’d love a particular piece, but Jeanne would eviscerate it. Or I’d write something that I thought was pretty good, and everyone in the room thought it failed. Now, on the other side of the fence, after four years of reading and writing in the industry and having a chance to absorb craft from Odyssey and a lot of other areas, I get it. I can see the things that I couldn’t see then, and while my critiques don’t always line up with Jeanne’s in every particular, they do on a huge percentage of issues and stories. That is incredibly validating. I can finally see what my favorite teacher was seeing. And I finally feel like a pro. 🙂
So, to the students, and Odyssey, to Jeanne Cavelos, the superhuman woman who can teach amazing lessons on no more than 3 hours of sleep, and to the writer community who has nurtured me over the last four years–thank you. It was awesome to be back. I hope that you will invite me again.
It was an honor to be there.