Odyssey

I made huge breakthroughs during Odyssey. This is for aspiring writers, re-posted from the workshop’s website:

Since its inception in 1996, the Odyssey Writing Workshop has become one of the most highly respected workshops for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror in the world. Top authors, editors and agents have served as guests at Odyssey, and 56% of graduates have gone on to be published. The workshop, held annually on the campus of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, runs for six weeks, and combines an intensive, advanced curriculum with in-depth feedback on students’ manuscripts. College credit is available upon request.

Odyssey is for developing writers whose work is approaching publication quality and for published writers who want to improve their work. Those who attend must be ready to put aside all their other concerns and make a single-minded effort to improve their writing. This is a serious, demanding program. I’m constantly told by graduates that they learned more at Odyssey than they learned in years of workshopping and creative writing classes. You should not apply unless you are ready to hear about the weaknesses in your writing and ready to work to overcome them. Class meets for 4 hours minimum in the morning, 5 days a week, and students use afternoons, evenings, and weekends to write, critique each other’s work, and complete other class assignments. Students spend at least 8 hours on “homework” each weekday and 12 hours per day on the weekend. You should come prepared to write new material, either short stories or novel chapters. After the first two weeks, you will not be able to submit anything that was written before the workshop began, unless you have radically revised it since arriving at Odyssey. The only way to improve is to write new material that incorporates what you have learned.

Odyssey is the only program of its kind run by an editor. I was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where I won the World Fantasy Award for my editing, and I serve as primary instructor at the workshop. Half of our class time is spent on lectures, writing exercises, and discussions. In my lectures, I provide an advanced, comprehensive curriculum, covering the elements of fiction writing in depth. To improve your writing, you need to understand the various tools and techniques writers can use to create a strong story. Many workshops, unfortunately, offer only brief, superficial lectures. We study some of the most beautiful and powerful writing in the field to gain understanding of what these tools can do when wielded with skill. I also explain the common failings of developing writers and how to avoid those pitfalls.

The other half of our class time is spent workshopping student stories. In critiquing stories, I give the same unflinchingly honest, concrete, detailed feedback that I provided as a senior editor. My typewritten critiques average over 1,200 words each, and my handwritten line edits on manuscripts are extensive. Everyone in the class learns to become a top-notch critiquer, providing insightful feedback on your work. Workshopping sessions are designed to maximize their helpfulness. You will not be coddled, and you will not be attacked. You will learn how to improve your writing and gain insight into why a story might or might not sell to a publisher. Anyone interested in applying should read “Workshopping at Odyssey” by David J. Schwartz, class of ’96.

Since I’ve worked with many writers over the course of my career, I understand that each writer works differently, so I also work individually with students. Over the six weeks, I chart each student’s progress in a series of private meetings, where we discuss personal strengths and weaknesses. We target those weaknesses one by one and work to conquer them. The workshop is limited to sixteen students so that each student can receive significant individual guidance.

Guest lecturers come in once a week, for about a 24-hour period, to add their own unique insights and perspectives, and to give students feedback on their work. Lecturers for the 2012 workshop include some of the top teachers in the field: acclaimed authors Paul Park, Elaine Isaak, Barbara Ashford, and Craig Shaw Gardner; and top agent Jennifer Jackson.

I’m excited to report that our 2012 writer-in-residence is is New York Times best-selling author Jeanne Kalogridis. Jeanne is the author of more than thirty books, including historical novels, dark fantasy, and novelizations. She has written in many different genres, and has even written several nonfiction titles. The New York Times called her Family Dracul trilogy “authentically arresting”; Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, called it “terrifying.” Her novels are renowned for their detail and evocativeness. Jeanne is also an amazing teacher and mentor. She will be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting with students for the entire fifth week, a wonderful opportunity for the class. The other weeks will be structured as described above.

Those who apply by January 31 will be considered for early admission. We created the possibility of early admission to help those who, if admitted, need several months to arrange their affairs before the workshop begins. Applicants will be notified by February 28 whether they have been admitted under the high standards of early admission or whether their applications will be held over for consideration for regular admission. Those who apply by the regular application deadline of April 7 will be informed of their status by May 1.

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