Graduate Essay: “Odyssey: A Storytelling Jumpstart” by Katherine McMullen Yañez

Katherine McMullen Yañez is a graduate of the 2021 Odyssey Writing Workshop. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Her work has been featured in Parhelion Literary Magazine, Aurora Online, and in the short story anthology from KY Press, Scary Story: An Anthology. Her short story, “The People Tree: An American Fable” was nominated for Best of the Net. A proud native Kentuckian, she is currently freezing her @ss off in Northeastern Ohio.


I applied to Odyssey when my writing had come to a stand-still and nothing I tried was able to jumpstart it. Convinced I had writer’s block, I hoped the frantic pace and harsh deadlines would spur me out of my rut. Within the first few days (maybe even hours!) I realized I didn’t have writer’s block—I just sucked at plotting. My writing was stalled because I didn’t have a firm grasp what the events of the story were supposed to be. Having an MFA degree, it was humbling to realize I was lacking in such fundamental aspects of story.

At Odyssey, I acquired a whole new set of verbiage for storytelling—functional ideas like causal chains and dialogue beats and sequel scenes. I loved how we broke down the process and product of storytelling, even down to the sentence level, and put each piece under the microscope, learning how each aspect of fiction should work and how to reproduce it within our own writing. I also discovered pre-writing methods that actually worked for me.

The work required for Odyssey was rigorous and easily demanded 12-14 hours a day for six weeks. The online model (thanks, COVID!) was definitely a challenge, especially as a mom of small children, but ultimately, want finds will. The workload is harsh, the deadlines unyielding, and every bit of it makes you a better writer. It was a huge confidence booster to know I could fire off a rough draft of a story in a single day. Even more importantly, I have a solid toolkit and knowledge base for pre-drafting and revising.

In order to get the most out of Director Jeanne Cavelos and the Odyssey experience, it is essential to remember: you get out of it what you put into it. For someone willing to put in the work and set aside pride and ego, this is a career-creating endeavor.

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