No writer can attend all of the workshops that are out there, unless they have deep pockets and a great deal of time. But one of the benefits of attending some of the workshops is that you meet people who have attended the others.
Fellow Taos Toolboxer Gerald Warfield has been kind enough to write about his experiences at Odyssey, for those of you who might be interested in attending at some point. Thanks, Gerald, for sharing these valuable experiences with us.
My experience at the Odyssey Writers’ Workshop was the result of two things: where I stood in my own development as a writer and the kind of personality that I have. My background, being in music and in technical writing, was no help in fiction at all. The subtleties of point of view, the hazards of telling, the dangers of filtering were all mysteries to me. What I needed was a disciplined march through the elements of writing.
That’s where Jeanne Cavelos, the director of Odyssey came in.
She was with us the whole six weeks and carefully oversaw the development of each writer. While we had big-name authors and editors come in for guest appearances, she provided the continuity. Her critiques were based on three works of ours she had read before Odyssey as well as the three pieces we wrote in the course of our stay. She commented on weaknesses and gave us direction and pointers for improvement. And very important, she followed up on these areas in our subsequent writing.
On the personal side, I function best in a non-competitive environment where I can concentrate on my own development, independent of other writers. Thankfully, I had already had experience critiquing with the Milford method, so that wasn’t a problem for me. I took my critiques seriously and also my obligation to critique other writers with equal care. I was relieved that at Odyssey there was no pressure to impress well-known authors at cocktail parties. In fact, there were no cocktail parties at all, although there were picnics. Those weren’t my favorite activity, but at least I didn’t feel that my success as a writer depended on my social skills. There’s enough of that in the real world. It was a relief, for six weeks, just to concentrate on writing.
I’m not saying that there was no social component to Odyssey. There was, and it was a major part of my experience, but it was based on individual interaction with other writers who were in the same boat as I, working toward a shared goal. Bonds were created in those six weeks that will last for a lifetime. I still trade critiques with my Odyssey colleagues, and we have are reunions at the major cons.
And speaking of reunions, Odyssey has a one-week refresher course every July. All Odyssey grads are eligible to see old friends and make new ones among the Odyssey alumni.
All-in-all, I date my emergence as a writer of fiction to that summer in New Hampshire.