Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.
Jeanne has run the Odyssey Writing Workshop for the last 26 years, and this year announced the breakthrough new program Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop.
Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop is such an exciting new opportunity for writers! What are some of the best ways for potential students to maximize the possibility of being selected for the workshop?
The most important thing a writer can do to improve their chances of being accepted into Your Personal Odyssey is to apply. Writers often pre-reject themselves, deciding not to apply to a program or not to submit their story to a particular magazine because they think they have no chance of success. And it’s true that they have no chance, if they never try. So I would encourage interested writers to apply.
If you are applying, please take time to fill out the application honestly, thoroughly, and thoughtfully. An easy way to reduce your chances is to submit a rushed application. That makes me think you’ll rush through your writing and assignments at Your Personal Odyssey. The application asks for a lot of information, so I can get a really good sense of you as a person and a writer. Text boxes in the online form, including one for a Writer’s Statement of up to 1,000 words, allow you to share your history, thoughts, experiences, and goals. There are no right answers to these questions. Maybe you’ve written a lot but have had no formal training. Maybe you’ve had the formal training but your writing is still not at the level you want. Maybe you’ve had your work published but want to expand your skills and break through to the next level. I’ve accepted writers in all of these situations—and more. Whatever your situation is, just share it with me. I’m looking for a diverse group of writers from different backgrounds, with different writing styles and different goals.
There are a few qualities I’ll be looking for in applicants because they’re qualities necessary for success in the program. Writers need to be committed to improving their writing, and they should be open to trying new tools and techniques and moving outside their comfort zone. Writers also need the ability to work independently and meet deadlines. So if you can show evidence that you have these qualities, that can be helpful.
One other part of the application involves you choosing the length of the session you’d like to attend: 6 weeks, 3 months, or 6 months. The application provides space for you to explain your choice, and that’s another location where you can demonstrate that you’ve put thought into how you can get the most out of the program and share some information about how you work.
I hope that helps.
In-person writing workshops offer the chance to socialize and discuss writing informally, building camaraderie among students. How will Your Personal Odyssey offer the opportunity to do the same during the course of the workshop?
Your Personal Odyssey is a one-on-one experience. You won’t be part of a class; you won’t have classmates. If you’d like the group experience of an in-person class or workshop, there are many programs that offer it. The Odyssey Writing Workshop offered it for 26 years, and many great friendships were made. But I often felt that I could have helped each student more with a more intense focus on that student’s interests, needs, strengths, and weaknesses. In a group experience, the focus has to be on what will be most helpful to the group, rather than what’s most helpful to any individual. I would meet one-on-one with each student at Odyssey, but the time we had for one-on-one meetings with the old Odyssey format was necessarily limited.
At Your Personal Odyssey, the experience will be customized for you. You’ll work at the pace that’s best for you. You’ll focus on the areas you most need to improve. And we’ll have extensive one-on-one deep mentoring sessions to generate learning goals, discuss concepts and techniques, brainstorm solutions to story problems, critique your submissions, address your questions, needs, and interests, and help you move ahead in your writing journey. You’ll be following the unique path that is most helpful for you, that teaches you the skills you need to become the writer you want to be.
The camaraderie that can develop when you’re part of a community of writers will come after you’ve successfully completed the program. You’ll be invited to join a mastermind group with other Odyssey graduates, where you can continue your learning, exchange critiques, help each other solve problems, and find companionship and support. You’ll also be invited to join the Odyssey discussion and critique boards, and to attend The Never-Ending Odyssey, the eight-day workshop for Odyssey graduates. You’ll become part of the wider Odyssey community.
How focused can a student be with their studies? Can a student study plot and the myriad components that contribute to plot, for example, to the exclusion of other aspects of writing? Conversely, can a student study every aspect of craft? Do you recommend a more focused study, or a more general study in order to get the most out of the workshop?
This is one of the aspects of Your Personal Odyssey that makes me so excited. A student can choose to study every aspect of craft, or they can choose to focus on just one element. Or anything in between. My recommendation will depend on what I think will best help the individual student (and then the student can choose to follow my recommendation or not). The program will not be the same for everyone. Most writers have multiple weak areas, so those would be good areas for study. But maybe there’s one area in particular you think is really holding you back, such as plot. Then you could spend more time on it and delve deeper into it to maximize your progress. Or you might want to study an area that is one of your strengths, to improve it even further and make the most of it. You can also control the order in which you study different topics to build your skills in the way that’s most helpful to you. For example, if you’re taking the program over six weeks, you might spend the first four weeks focused on improving the biggest writing weaknesses in your work and then the last two weeks focused on building your strengths even further.
In a more traditional workshop model, students critique one another’s work. However, in Your Personal Odyssey, while students will critique works, they won’t participate in a critique circle with other students, and they will receive critiques from instructors instead. What are some of the major benefits of this model?
Students will be assigned stories and novel excerpts to critique from the Odyssey library, which is made up of submissions that previous Odyssey students have offered to help future students. At a regular workshop, you have to critique whatever submissions your classmates write. At Your Personal Odyssey, you’ll be assigned pieces to critique that will help you with the particular areas you’re working to improve. So if you’re working to improve your character arcs, you’ll be given a submission that has a weak character arc (though I won’t tell you that), and by studying the piece, discovering the weak character arc, figuring out why it’s weak, and offering suggestions to strengthen it, you’ll be improving your own ability to create strong character arcs. This allows the critiquing to be much more focused on your own improvement. You also won’t be doing as many critiques as you’d have to at a regular workshop, which will allow you more time to complete your readings, writing exercises, and individualized assignments, and to write your submissions.
As for the feedback on your submissions, you’ll receive a written critique on your application piece, on a second piece you submit before your session begins, and on each of the six submissions you make during the workshop. I’ll be critiquing your two pre-workshop submissions and four out of those six submissions. Guest critiquers will provide feedback on the other two submissions. You won’t be receiving a stack of critiques on each piece, as in a traditional workshop, but the feedback you receive will all be from experts. Your receipt of each written critique will be followed by a one-on-one meeting online with the critiquer, which will allow you to ask questions and explore ways to strengthen the piece. Often that discussion time can be extremely useful, helping the writer to understand and process the critique, to learn more from it, and to find a positive pathway forward.
I hope my answers have helped to give a sense of the experience that those who participate in Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop will have. I’m very excited about the new program and how much it will be able to help writers. Anyone with questions should feel free to contact me.