Graduate Essay: “The Yellow Brick Writing Road” by Avione Lee

Photo Credit: Monika Normand

Avione Lee was born and raised in Texas, as indicated by her excessive use of the word y’all. She is a graduate of the summer 2022 Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop, a Madeleine Milburn Fellow, and a Pitch Wars alum. Her debut novel, about a boy who discovers he can turn music into colorful magic, will be published by Simon and Schuster in 2024, and she cannot wait for you to read it.


So, I was minding my own business, getting ready for my writing workshop, when the Odyssey tornado swooped me up and sent me twirling, Dorothy-style, into “Writing Oz,” where I was spun, twisted, and turned upside down and all around—and I loved every (sometimes nervy, sometimes painful, always amazing) moment of it! For every moment of my six-week program, I was completely absorbed, bewildered, and engulfed in understanding the intricacies of writing and exactly where I stood in this vast, magical writing world. The amount of information that Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos knows about writing, her ability to explain it so it’s easily understood, and her knack for catching even the tiniest writerly things is astounding. What a peek behind the Wizard’s curtain!

When I entered Odyssey, I thought I knew some things about writing, but let me tell you, what I knew probably filled about 0.01% of what I learned in just six weeks of this program. The first hour of lectures completely blew me away. And I had fifteen more hours of liquid gold writing knowledge to devour in just the first week alone!

So there I was, Dorothy, walking down that yellow brick road, the weight of critique crushing my Writing Witch of the Western Manuscript and the Emerald Building of Prose & Wonder ahead of me. And, just like Dorothy, I may have started terrified, but by the end of the six weeks, I was skipping right along. 

Odyssey was all immersive. In the moments that I wasn’t writing, absorbing information, or researching journal entries, I was thinking about writing and planning the next moment I would have time to write, which is the brilliance of the Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop that I was a part of. For this workshop, I had to find time to study and to write within my normal everyday life, and let me tell you, that took some fandangling around. But after the first week’s crash landing of figuring out all of the videos, lessons, critiques, and one-on-one sessions (where I was horribly behind and playing catch up), I was able to work out a routine that started to work for me. The wonderful thing is, because I had to fit this workshop and its demands into my schedule, it organically gave me an “After Odyssey” outline to follow so that I could continue my writing practice once Odyssey finished.

Since I was in the at-home program, I can only imagine how hard it must have been for writers to return to their life after the six-week immersive Odyssey program where they did not have any outside interference. After I completed Odyssey, I crashed for a complete forty-eight hours and did nothing but stream shows, eat ice cream, and catch up on everything I missed online.

However, after two days were over, I started getting the urge to write again, because it had become so entrenched in my everyday life. My family knows when my writing time is and automatically makes time for it. My body is tuned to when I should wake up or take a nap, and I already have work, exercise, and play scheduled into my writing day. So, actually, not writing was a bigger disturbance to my day than writing was! Imagine how shocked I was to find this out because I had plans to not do anything for seventy-two hours, but when that third day came, I was itching to get to the keyboard.

I had a tremendous life-changing writing experience at Odyssey with Jeanne and feel propelled forward in my writing journey. I am very excited about all the stories I have yet to create using the techniques I learned in the Odyssey program—and, to anyone who is serious about improving their writing and opening their mind to the vast world of prose, I say, Jeanne is so very wonderful, the work is so very engaging, and you will be so very inspired. So, follow your yellow brick road. Writing Oz awaits.

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