Here we are sitting on the end of the fourth week of Odyssey. I’m two-thirds done, and while part of me wants to go home today, another part wants to be here another two months, draining dry every bit of knowledge I can get from all of these great people.
Odyssey is a crazy, intense workload of: (1) intense, pro-level lectures on the writing craft including specific examples, (2) exercises to bring the teaching home in your writing, (3) writing four to five brand new stories, about one per week, plus one story revision, and (4) two to three 5,000-word stories to critique in-depth per day.
A lot of people have struggled with one item or another from the list, but what’s tough about Odyssey is not any of these expectations by themselves. It’s putting them all together in an atmosphere of very little downtime and high stress. Depending on the day, I’ve worked anywhere from nine hours to sixteen… or more. Others, who don’t mind losing sleep now and again, have pulled all-nighters to get everything done. The sheer volume of work is really the big challenge.
“Why do all this?” you may ask. Why work that hard for six weeks in a row? Well, if you’re here, you take writing seriously. You’re not a hobbyist anymore, you’re someone who wants this as a career. And for that purpose, the in-depth, practical teaching here gives you more understanding and more tools to use in your craft than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s the workshop that will let you make that next big leap in your writing, that will show you what professional looks like and how to get there. But it’s not easy. And the emotional pitfalls of having your beloved story torn to shreds… well, those aren’t easy either.
But I feel like I’ve grown more in the past few weeks as a writer than I know how to express. I’ve gotten a clearer view of what professional level stories look like (and therefore what I’m shooting for). I’ve grappled with a lot of new techniques and goals, including this elusive “originality” concept, something I think I’ll take with me forever. The idea that your first idea isn’t necessarily your best is actually earthshattering in terms of the kinds of cool things you can come up with in fiction. It makes your work stronger, immediately, to spend more time brainstorming and thinking about the work in advance.
I also have struggled with other basic concepts that changed everything for me. Including the “story definition” brought in by one writer. A story is (1) a sympathetic character (2) in the context of his setting (3) struggling against obstacles (4) to reach a worthwhile goal. You could spend months or years working with this idea and end up with much better fiction because of it.
But probably the biggest groundbreaking idea I’ve come across this month is the fact that I have been misdiagnosing my weaknesses. The thing I thought was my problem – plot – in fact is not, or at least not anymore. Instead, I have a character problem, where the characters aren’t (in places) active enough in the resolution of the plot. The thing I thought was my strength (character development) is in part a very different strength (POV). That diagnosis alone was well worth the price of admission. Now, instead of running after plot techniques (something I’ve been doing for the last year), I can focus in on how character decisions impact plot, which is a very different study. And, I can choose stories and story techniques to show off my POV strengths. It’s a humbling and extremely helpful realization, and one I’m very grateful to have had.
As the rest of Odyssey goes on, I’ll start catching you up on some of the stuff we’ve done and are doing. I’m deeply grateful to be here, despite the soul-crushing endless workload, and excited to go back to the real world with all of this new information at my disposal. Every new tool I can add to my toolbox is another story, another project, done better. Another way that I, as an artist in words, can paint a better picture.
Thank you, Jeane. Thank you, Odyssey.