We're not going to claim to be the voices of all Odyssey editors, but we can represent ourselves.
Writing for Odyssey comes with a few misconceptions, like how when we share we write for Odyssey, many people give us a condescending look. We become glorified wannabe Buzzfeed writers that write either crappy clickbait listicles about Greek life, open letters rife with grammatical errors, or intentionally controversial articles that only exist to provoke (See: "Stop Calling My Drug Addiction A Disease").
And it is sufficient to say that the experience doesn't come without baggage: Writing a quality article every week of at least 500 words is not always feasible, especially when we have classes, work, sports, and the regular rigors of college life to balance. Naturally, having to write an article every week means we'll run out of ideas or opinions, and overall we have put out work that isn't our best.
In addition, being an editor means having to deal with pressure not for quality but for stats. While we have worked with incredibly friendly, encouraging, and helpful Managing Editors, it's clear what the message is from HQ: focus on page views. Focus on how many articles our team can put out every week. Make writers share on as many social media platforms as possible. Make sure all headlines read like tweets.
We have seen our articles and our writers' article headlines changed with no permission from them or from us whatsoever, in ways that don't even reflect the message of the articles anymore. It's clear at some point that articles aren't being valued for the amount of passion and effort put into each one, but for what will generate the most clicks and ad money for the site, despite most writers remaining largely unpaid.
It's clear that this isn't our editors' faults - they did their jobs. Like many talented teachers who have to "teach to a test" instead of actually teaching useful skills, we see our editors' ability to improve our writing largely wasted on trying to generate as many page views on articles as possible.
Needless to say, this shouldn't be the case.
But behind the negatives of the job and the writing experience belie something much greater: How much writing and editing for Odyssey has helped us grow. The one thing about the platform is that there is no specific restriction on what any writer could write about and that freedom and flexibility are what attract many people to the platform.
Being pushed to write an article every week has brought much more out of us than we ever thought we could write ourselves. Obviously, we'll exhaust ourselves of ideas, of material, of time. But being pushed to the wall like that and making it through leads us to learn a lot about ourselves and what we really care about. We started to write about people and organizations in our lives that we care about - and that's a kind of freedom that wouldn't have been allowed on any platform than Odyssey.
That isn't to say there aren't articles we've written that we weren't proud of. Between the two of us, we have both published probably 150 articles, and some of them were bound to be bad. But no matter what, they were ours. We felt 100% ownership in our articles, and each one, no matter how "bad" it was, really added to the complete pictures of ourselves as writers.
We weren't going to be absolutely on top of our game every single week. No one is. We weren't going to put out a masterpiece every single time we drafted up 1000 words. But maybe we changed the way one person saw something. Maybe writing about a certain person really made someone's day. The reach of our writing is really unknown, but, again, the fact that it was ours, and we did it on our own made us grateful no matter what.
Recently, our headlines had been changed in an effort to make them improve to the average reader and seem more appealing. We knew that was done with only the best of intentions, but that really made us cringe, because for the hours we spend on each article, that took away some of that ownership. It took away the one great thing about writing for Odyssey.
As editors, we have consistently been impressed by writers' content, and we have seen, as time has gone on, our writers grow as well. One kid that wrote under us hated writing when he began writing for Odyssey and thought of himself as a terrible writer. But after about ten articles, he grew much more confident in himself, venturing into articles about his racial identity when he wouldn't before. He started to really have fun in his work, and started really having people take notice of it.
It's a reality that not every single Odyssey writer is going to be a journalist or even a writer, but seeing these people come out of Odyssey with more faith in themselves and more confidence in their voice as writers, well, is the one reason we turn on a website with thousands of technical problems to edit 20 articles and still write our own when there are millions of other things to do.
At the end of the day, we are contributors first and foremost. Just like any of our other writers, the satisfaction we receive from each Facebook comment, each message from our moms or grandmas, each comment we receive from each other on the articles we're proud makes it feel worth it. For every clickbait piece we send out during weeks when there's not even time to sit and eat a full meal, there is another we send out on this site and know it makes a difference to someone, somewhere.
The job as both a writer and editor isn't perfect, and there sure is baggage that goes with it. But we wouldn't trade it for anything else. Being with Odyssey was one of the best decisions we could have made.