How I spent my summer vacation or how Odyssey changed my life.
By Zoe Zygmunt
The Odyssey Fantasy Writer’s Workshop has all the ingredients of a best seller. A great idea (from the big brain of Jeanne Cavelos), an epic and lush setting (St. Anselm), a fast moving plot (a full six-week schedule), interesting characters (visiting authors and fellow students), a giant box full of attempts, failures, trials, successes, and the attractive, humble, and highly motivated heroine we all can relate to (me) with an epic goal (becoming a better writer.)
Every hero’s journey starts in the ordinary world. I heard many people talk about how they’ve always known they would write, or they started writing stories in elementary school. Me, I never really thought about becoming a writer. But there was a sense of wrongness in the land and the declining economy eventually claimed my job. With lots of free time available, I eagerly read every book in my TBR (to be read) pile and then some. When I ran out of stories I liked, I decided to write my own. After a few drafts I knew something was missing, but I didn’t know what. I could improve them, I just didn’t know how. My search for this sacred knowledge led me to the Odyssey website.
I embraced the refusal of the call mere seconds after printing the student application. I delayed sending it in for two months, wrestling with doubts of my ability, and fear of rejection. When I did learn I’d been accepted I thought, oh no, now I have to go! Will everyone be better than I am? And did I really want to make the financial investment? Could I spend six weeks away from my home, husband, car, and pets? My motivation to reach my goal overrode the doubts, and I crossed the first threshold (I boarded the plane) and began my writer’s journey.
Next plot point: meeting the mentor.
Jeanne Cavelos is an amazing teacher. I learned more in six weeks than I had ever hoped to know about fiction writing. I couldn’t write notes fast enough, trying to capture every word and example she imparted. Jeanne clearly loves fostering writers to the next level. Her approach, the combination of lecture and critique, works. Never before had an expert taken my writing and applied the elements of fiction to it, and then sat down to talk to me about it!
Every journey has tests and trials, and mine were in the form of 3 a.m. bedtimes, no air conditioning, strangely swollen feet, exhaustive writing sessions, and peer critiques. And then, (cue dramatic music) I had my first real success. In a private meeting with Jeanne she said I wasn’t putting enough obstacles in my stories for my characters to overcome. I didn’t make them suffer enough. At first I was confused. I told Jeanne I liked my characters, and I didn’t want them to suffer. In typical no-nonsense fashion Jeanne said, “You can give them a happy ending. They just have to try and fail a few times on the way there.” Then she proceeded to outline all the ways I could seriously inconvenience, maim, or kill them.
I rose to the challenge and wrote a new story. While I didn’t seriously maim or kill anyone, my character tried and failed a few times, with escalating suffering, changed, AND got a happy ending. Jeanne deemed it a breakthrough.
I was starting to get it.
And on it went. Every week I “got it” a little more; causal chain, setting description from point of view character, the appearance of character free will! I even started using commas. Okay, not correctly, but they were there.
I met the allies in my fellow students. Never have I met such a diverse, yet singly motivated group of people. Everyone made deadline, everyone provided honest comments. No matter how exhausted they were, no matter how late they had to stay up; all critiques were done on time and delivered with respect. And On-Site Odyssey Goddess Susan Sielinski made the logistics of living away from home so much easier with answers, directions, rides to Tinker’s, a sympathetic ear, and a supply of cookies and Lady Grey tea.
Odyssey is by no means easy. But what hero’s journey is? It’s demanding physically and mentally. You will be pushed to your limits and beyond. But the reward is you will leave with the tools to become a better writer. You will make lasting friendships. You will become one of the Odyssey Alumni; giving you access to other alums and resources, and you’ll be invited to TNEO (The Never Ending Odyssey).
And you will keep having those breakthroughs months after you’ve returned with the elixir because you’ll have gotten some sleep!
Anyone who wants to improve their writing needs to apply to Odyssey. If you are accepted, go. Don’t be afraid to start your writer’s journey.
Zoe Zygmunt is a graduate of Odyssey 2010. Find out more about Zoe Zygmunt here: http://www.zoezygmunt.com/Author/Welcome.html