The Odyssey latches on to decent writers, sucks the life force out of them and then spits them on the wayside, devoid of any love for writing that they once had.
When I first heard of the Odyssey, I was more excited than I had been in some time. I loved writing, and to be able to write for a website? That felt like an incredible opportunity. In fact, it felt like Christmas used to feel before I turned into a cold, cynical adult. This could be the opportunity I was looking for: a real chance to get my writing to the masses! I remember talking to my newfound friend, Jon Hall, about the Odyssey and was blown away by the fact that he had gotten in. No offense to Jon, who is an excellent writer, but I expected entrance into the Odyssey to be incredibly stringent, seeing as it appeared to be a serious website, designed to develop writers and get their works out into the public sphere.
After talking to Jon, I decided that I was going to do my best to write for the Odyssey. I was sure that it would be an uphill battle, competing against near professional writers who would be eligible for a Pulitzer the next year. With that in mind, I sent my best writings in to the editor for Union University. The first piece of writing was my Common App essay, which I had used to apply to many colleges. It was about playing football in high school, specifically the rituals that take place right before the first whistle on Friday nights. The second piece of writing was slightly more comedic. It was entitled “A Pondering of Stacy’s Maternal Figure,” a persuasive essay with the thesis: “Stacy’s mom has got it going on due to her bodily attractiveness, her independence and her flirtatious attitude.”
I remember pressing send and then praying. I wanted this “job” so much, and I devoted everything into the application process. It was nearly a week later when I got a phone call from my editor and had a brief conversation with him. I was hired after finishing my application and was so joyous that I couldn’t stand still—like a kid who just woke up on Christmas morning. The very first week, I decided to write a comedy piece on why roommates should wash their dishes. Why yes, this article was influenced by real life events. I remember sharing it that first week, watching with exuberance as I slowly got 47 shares. Forty-seven people liked my article enough to share it? Well, maybe a few of them just really wanted to get on my good side so they could try to manipulate me later in life, but still, 47 shares felt like a decent amount.
The day after that first article was published, I remember walking down the halls of the main academic building and getting high fives from people I had never met. “Classic Clark!” they said. “I loved your article!” I felt like a superhero. This was how celebrities felt every day. I could get used to the high of fame. I hadn’t even come close to winning, but I didn’t care. My splash into the world of the Odyssey had been successful.
Throughout the following week, I thought through possibilities for an Odyssey article. I eventually wrote a piece on how to be a man, spoofing Mulan. I got 116 shares on that article, which was both exhilarating and terrifying. How high could I climb before I fell?
Over the next five weeks, I wrote an article a week. After a while, I began to break into the top three writers at Union on a weekly basis. The most shares I received was for my article “How to Catch a White Girl,” with 183 shares, and my least shared article was on why Pat Sajak is actually a polar bear. I remember submitting the Pat Sajak article at two in the morning on a Saturday, seven hours before a debate tournament thinking ‘I hate this.’ I had just sacrificed several hours of sleep racking my brain for an article idea, and then had spent 30 minutes of my short life mindlessly typing out an article that I didn’t want to write.
Forcing authors to write will make them care less about the quality of their works and simply type out a few paragraphs of convoluted, pathos-filled BS they call “writing.” Conveniently, that last sentence leads me to my second point.
The Odyssey takes half-decent writers, puts them in a wood chipper and then sells their remains as fertilizer. After the first week, the top articles became poorly-written clickbait articles on issues that require a great deal more thought. If they didn’t target the pathos center of the brain, people made GIF lists and conned them off as their own work. There are also list articles, like “23 Things Every Ginger Knows to be True” or “109 Thoughts Every Rhinoceros Thinks at One Point or Another.” These articles are better than tantalizing clickbait or GIF lists, but that isn’t saying much. Fellow Odyssey writers, if you are going to stay on the Odyssey, please don’t write like this. You are all decent writers, and you should write well.
Another factor that takes these writers and turns them into sewage-spewing robots is the reward system. You don’t get paid a dime to write for the Odyssey unless you “win” by having the most shares of the week. Even then, you only receive $20, while the Odyssey receives money through everyone’s articles by placing ads between paragraphs. This has caused all of the authors to want to win more than anything, dramatically changing their writing styles. As I stated above, most authors come into the Odyssey ready to write to the best of their ability. Once they see that the most shared articles are the ones that make the reader feel bad or GIF lists that took 15 minutes to make, then they will change their writing style to mimic these winners. This results in a vicious cycle where everyone is pressured into writing articles well below their skill level, hoping to win by using clever marketing tactics.
Lastly, the Odyssey makes each individual writer promote themselves via social media. As I stated earlier, shares are what determines who wins, and it is also the only way to get your article into the public sphere. The Odyssey makes the writers do everything and then places ads throughout their articles, cashing in on the hard work of the authors, and only paying out $20 a week per school. This is a cash cow scheme that abuses writers and forces them to either transform into terrible writers or quit. Those are the only two options, and since I don’t wish to become a terrible writer, I must quit.
This isn’t one of those horrendous open letters that plagues your website, but is instead a letter of resignation. The article above contains four reasons that I need to quit writing for the Odyssey, but the overarching reason is that I want to grow as a writer, and the Odyssey does nothing but suppress the skills of writers.
It has taken a good deal of self control to remain true to my own writing style, and although I appreciate the exposure the Odyssey has provided my writing, I must part ways with it.
To my fellow Odyssey writers, I had no specific person in mind when I wrote this article, and I think you are all good writers. Some of you have fallen to the peer pressure of degrading your writing to win, but that doesn’t make you bad writers. Continue to write, but I urge you to consider whether or not the Odyssey is helping you or hindering you.
Lots of people are going to be very upset that I wrote this article, and I encourage them to talk to me instead of holding an intense grudge for decades, until the point when we are both accepting our writing awards on the red carpet. That might be an awkward awards ceremony. I didn’t have the intention to offend anyone, and I hope I have made some of you think about the Odyssey and your future in writing.
For those of you who enjoy my writing, I still intend to write short articles, but they will be on an online blog, which I will set up later this semester. I also have plans to start a creative writing blog with multiple writers, and I hope to recruit some of my old Odyssey colleagues for that. More information for that will be forthcoming on my Twitter account: @Classic_Clark. Thanks for reading this, and best of luck writing.