Decades after I graduated from college, I took a running leap off the edge of a cliff, ditched my job in a medical practice I helped found, and enrolled in a two-year novel writing program.  Five years ago, Fall 2013, nervous as a first-grader on the first day of school, I met my new classmates, the Stanford University Online Writing Certificate Cohort (OWC 2013.)

What followed was a breathless, intense experience, modeled on an MFA: word-count expectations, feedback, readings, craft lessons, serious discussions about the work, topped by a faculty guided thesis.

The daily demands entered my DNA and set the rhythm of my week. Best of all, I was gifted with 45 Pen Pals. We lay bare our deepest hopes, sliced open our veins to criticism, read, wrote, revised–a magical alchemy. Not unlike many writing programs and workshops, I’m sure.

And then, I finished.

Like the last teary day of eighth grade summer camp, we promised to keep in touch, read each other’s work, start our very own writer’s groups via Zoom. Plus, man oh man, we’d keep writing! Revise the novel! Submit and query and publish!

Womp! Reality. Absent structured deadlines and support, the word-count dwindled. The doubts crawled across the desk and leapt onto the keyboard. The inbox was bereft without the too-many-too-fast writing posts demanding response. And, truly, my heart mourned. I missed those guys, the rhythm of my days.

Just like that, out of the wilderness: an email atta-boy, a meetup, then plans for a reunion. Whoa! The 2015 Fall OWC graduation was an awesome party, and Fall 2016 the Stanford program hosted an intensive one-day seminar. We had so much damned fun we hoisted the cocktail glasses and promised we’d meetup every year, every fall.

But, where? We live in Australia and Greece, Canada and across the US. Kudos to our classmate, Julie Ushio, hailing from Hawaii. Kauai Writer’s Conference, holy cow. But 2017 was their hiatus year, and momentum is vital to any relationship, right? We hired our Stanford instructors and ran a three-day CA conference of our own: writing, reading, craft and workshop. And like the magic alchemy of OWC, at the last get-together of the last day of Fall Reunion 2017, the Kauai 2018 email announcement dropped with a blow-us-away lineup. Perfect timing to grab hold of our kismet and connection and continue the celebration. A year to plan, a year to budget, a year to write toward. And a commitment to ourselves.

Do you believe in fate? I believe in fate. And community and connection. Without Simi’s daily email check-in, Shanda’s Thursday words-deadline, our monthly meetups, the Josh Mohr online workshops, Zoom dates, the annual reunion, I’d be whistling to myself in the CA coastal fog.  I finished my second novel rough draft, Simi got an agent, Megan landed a dream story-editor job, Roy, Shanda and then Cathey got first place awards, yes, and so much more. But also, collectively: 50+ full MS agent rejections, scads of lit journal no’s, first novel subs without acquisition, limited time for the draft edits, a novel (or six) in the drawer.

Without the collective, I’d take it personally.  Without these people in my life who know exactly how the creative bursts work, from self-flagellation to the soaring perfect sentence, to the miracle of a gorgeous character arc, I’d be subsumed by the No-No-Nanette of the inbox.

We’ve reached writer young adulthood together. I’m defined by my own sensibilities for sure, but my development depends on being primed for steady intellectual input and growth. To stay open requires trust. My relationships with my cohort demand devotion absolutely, but on a pedantic level we commit to attending class or conference together; we schedule immutable time to meet; we value and define each other as writers.

The road sure ain’t steady, but when my own persistence lags, I turn to these writers who know me, who have faith in me. So, I’m raising my Mai Tai in Kauai, to Fall 2018 Reunion! (soon to be a Netflix Original…)

Gail Ansel