Graduate Essay: “My Odyssey Experience” by F. P. Rahe

F. P. Rahe is a 2020 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She is an alumna of the 2019 Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and has been recognized at the national level by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. When not reading or writing, she enjoys making omelets, criticizing Socrates, and hanging out with her family.


I applied to Odyssey in March of 2020 because I wanted to make a serious improvement in my writing. I had been working on my writing for years before that point, hammering away at novels and short stories each day. My writing was competent prose-wise, but not exceptional. I had only a slight instinctual grasp of the vagaries of character and plot. Causal chains were a concept I was utterly unfamiliar with. This ignorance of the conscious craft of writing impacted my work in many extremely negative ways. Among other things, I was unable to recognize or address many of the problems in my stories, preventing me from making valuable progress. I knew I needed to improve; I hoped Odyssey would show me how.

Upon receiving the announcement that I’d been accepted into Odyssey, I was ecstatic. However, when I received the news that Odyssey was being moved online due to COVID-19, I grew apprehensive. My experience with online classes in the past had not been ideal. Even so, despite my worries about what the Odyssey experience would be like over Zoom, I decided I couldn’t wait another year. I signed up to attend Odyssey via my computer, and in the process, signed up for some of the best six weeks of my life.

By the end of the first week of Odyssey, my brain was already bursting with new ideas about how I could improve as a writer. I was setting up concrete plans to change my writing process, and I was actually enacting them. I was learning from the wonderful stories of my classmates and drinking in knowledge from the Q&A with the guest lecturer … and that was all just in the first week. Every single day that followed continued that trend. Every single lecture Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos gave blew my mind in some way or another.

Over the course of the next few weeks of Odyssey, the workload took its toll. On Fridays, I often had to lie down for at least half an hour to resuscitate my overloaded brain. However, even at the most trying times (rewriting a story at 2 a.m. for an 8 a.m. deadline), my love for writing never disappeared. In fact, it was heightened rather than dampened by the high pressure of the workshop. Odyssey’s heavy workload taught me that I truly wanted to pursue writing, regardless of how difficult working on it might become. My classmates, I believe, had similar revelations. We bonded swiftly over our shared sleepiness, and over the delicious snacks our wonderful Resident Supervisor Amy mailed to us.

By the end of Odyssey, I was both exhausted and exhilarated. My mind was crammed with more knowledge than I could keep track of, but at the same time, I was ecstatic to rework the novel I had begun prior to Odyssey. The problems I faced prior to Odyssey with that novel were now problems I knew how to solve. Odyssey turned me from a pantsing scribbler, working on pure instinct, to a conscious craftsman, destroying many of the faults of my works in the prewriting stage.

The fact that Odyssey was online actually made my experience more beneficial. While initially it was difficult to get to know my classmates, the time both Amy and Jeanne devoted to meeting with us over Zoom created a great atmosphere for bonding. The conversations I had with my brilliant classmates were simultaneously bizarre and illuminating—we discussed every subject from Conan the Barbarian to pod people. I’m still in touch with them over Slack. Doing Odyssey at home also helped me learn how to work at a persistent level in my house. In the weeks following Odyssey, I’ve been able to work on my writing at home with much more diligence than I was ever able to work prior to Odyssey.

While I still have a lot to learn, Odyssey definitely caused a massive jump in my writing ability. The things I learned in Odyssey would have taken me years to learn on my own. Though my current writing is far from perfect, I can now recognize my flaws and create in-depth plans to solve them. I wasn’t able to do that prior to Odyssey. This growth in my writing is all thanks to Jeanne Cavelos, who was a wonderful and inspiring mentor. I’m really thankful to have the privilege of being taught by her, and I’m proud to call myself an Odfellow.

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