Let me tell you a story about 9 strangers on the internet

by Janelle Hanchett

In December 2014, I ran my first online writing workshop.

That was possibly the most boring first sentence I’ve ever written in my life. Stay with me here. It may get better.

Anyway, my business manager and family had been encouraging me to launch a class for a long time, but I didn’t, because I didn’t think anybody would sign up. I saw myself as the kid left standing hopefully on the lawn realizing nobody’s coming to her birthday party.

This never actually happened to me but shit, dude, these fears are real.

But in December 2014, there wasn’t much construction work for my husband, and I lost my last writing gig, and I realized we didn’t have money for a goddamn Christmas tree, and for some reason, that threw me over the edge. I REALLY LIKE CHRISTMAS.

And yes, even then I realized we were really lucky to have “no presents or tree” as a motivator, as opposed to, say, no food or housing. We do not live in poverty. We’ve always had a home, and food, and a car, and healthcare, but it was in that paycheck-to-paycheck, pay-the-oldest-bills-first kind of way, and I knew I was either going to have to get a “real” job or try to make my living as a “real” writer.

And the workshops were one step in the direction of the latter.

So I fucking did it. I hit “publish” on the workshop sales page I had sitting in the draft folder.

Motherfucker sold out in 48 hours.

I’ll never forget calling my husband and yelling, “People are signing up!” It felt like, well, Christmas.

Yeah. I went there.

We bought a big ass tree.

I had been writing the blog for almost four years, and I had a graduate degree in English, but there was still some voice in me that said, “You can’t do it. It won’t work. NOBODY LIKES YOU ASSHOLE.”

But it got too uncomfortable where I was standing, so I decided to take a step, because even if it failed, at least I’d have tried. Since then, those workshops have enabled me to get by as a writer between freelance gigs, and I get to pick my kids up from school, which is wild and awesome and also kind of terrible but whatever. #blessed.

The second class I taught began in March 2015 and involved 15 women. Eleven of them wanted to keep working after the class, and I had mentioned possibly forming a writing group in which we wrote every day for 30 days and held each other accountable. They encouraged me to create it.

And I did it, with less hesitation, because the first one went well. Fear is like that. It diminishes as we take steps we’re afraid of.

Of course I had no real idea if it would work or not, but by the end of the 30 days, we all realized something odd was happening between us. There was an energy, a buzz in the interweb air we breathed together. Basically, we all just wanted to keep working together, AND SO WE DID. WE just kept going. A couple of people dropped out of the little crew, but there’s a core group of nine of us that haven’t stopped. We have a little Facebook group and hold monthly calls online.

During one of those calls, I suggested rather flippantly that we “have a writing retreat someday, in person.”

There was a roar of agreement, but I shoved it out of my head as a pipe dream, a “yeah right like that would ever fucking happen” kind of thing. But as time passed, I started asking myself, why can’t it happen? Could it? Maybe it could. Why the hell couldn’t it?

I’ve never run a fucking retreat in my life, but I had also never written a goddamn blog.

So I did some research and found us a spot in my beloved homeland and my worst friend Sarah agreed to cook (she’s a chef) and my husband Mac agreed to make us fires (he’s a builder) and help Sarah in the kitchen and I wrote the workshops and last Tuesday I joined eight women from around the world at an old ranch house nestled in redwoods, 5 miles off the coast of northern California, where the choir of angels live.

And we were all, immediately, writersisterfriends. We wrote, cried, laughed maniacally. We sat around fires and work-shopped pieces of writing. We walked the beach and sorted pebbles. We sat in a yurt (yes, I said “yurt”) and talked craft. Voice, tone, syntax. We listened to Mac and Sarah sing “Rocky Raccoon” and “Don’t think twice, it’s alright” and Joni Mitchell and Prince. Some of us smoked and drank beer and wine around a fire under brilliant northern stars. Some of us didn’t.

All of  us though wondered what the actual fuck had happened, and how we got there. How does something like this happen? How does something so gorgeous materialize out of nothing? A dream. A thought. The internet? How profoundly unromantic.

And yet, it did happen. Out of a flippant suggestion, a silly idea, a wisp of smoky dreaming.

But that wasn’t it. Because what it actually came from, on the ground, was a group of humans who decided to do something and respond to life as it presented itself even though it made perhaps no sense in the “rational” world. It happened because a group of women found something together and committed to it, for themselves, for each other, for the act of creation itself, to jump off the cliff and trust it’ll be worth it, that people will show up, that you won’t be left standing alone, wondering why you even tried.

I wonder sometimes how we decide what’s worth our time. I wonder how we choose what we “should” be doing. I wonder how we’ve convinced ourselves that magic doesn’t come from weird ass decisions, that we shouldn’t get a bit reckless sometimes, that we shouldn’t say “fuck it” and at least try, for no other reason than an opportunity has shown up and it fucking looks interesting.

We may end up right where we started, and we may end up losing, but then again we may end up circling the fire of the source itself, connected to some humans that can never be strangers again, wondering how the hell we arrived, and forgetting altogether the piece that wondered if such things were possible.

I want to tell you everything, bring you there through my words, but the magic lives in the thing itself, and every time I try, my voice isn’t enough.

And that, I think, is the point. We have no choice but to try again.


this hot tub at night under the stars.


typical cooks


yurt school


first time we all met

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Maybe it’s the happiest I’ve ever been, or as happy as I am today. If I remember it’s mine to find.


P.S. Also please read this 4-70 times.

30 Comments | Posted in what the fuck is a writer | June 1, 2016
  • Maureen Wanket

    I love this.

  • Michele

    Love it.

  • Michelle Stevens

    Great post. Firm believer of life is all about experiences and we should worry less and get on and do more.

  • jnl

    damn i hate writing, but that looks like fun!!!

    you should do a humanists not being assholes and drinking too much wine workshop.

    • Libby

      I’d so be there! LOL

    • CC

      I’m in!

  • Bonnie

    I have experienced this exact same thing, from a different circumstance. Online gaming, World of Warcraft to be precise. It’s astounding the kindred spirits and family that you can find online 🙂

  • daniel pelfrey

    There’s a line in Jerry Maguire.”That’s how you become great. Hang your balls out there!” It’s said by the copy clerk to Jerry as he is trying to get his manifesto done. He hangs his balls out there and they get smashed, but that ultimately leads to something much better.

  • Crystal

    Absolutely love this. Follow your dreams – who knows where they will take you? 🙂

  • Susan

    Read this with one long, continuous shiver up my spine and tears in my eyes. Every single time I say yes, just because “it looks fucking interesting”, and reach back to what is reaching out towards me, it is a good, good thing – the best of things.

  • Michelle Rich

    Love it. I so want to join your online workshop soon. I love to write and miss workshopping.

  • Lou Taylor

    Love. Love, love, love, love.

  • Katie Mattison

    I don’t write, but I would totally sign up for one of your writing retreats just to hang out with you for a little while. Maybe I’d come away with some profound motivation to start writing. Or some new direction in life. Or something…

  • Julie

    Argh. I wanted to be part of this workshop but couldn’t afford it at the time. Do it again. I am in. I now create cohorts of women who want to run for office. There is a writer inside of me dying to get out. HELP ME!!!

  • Loraine

    Keep on going.

  • Shannon

    What I should be doing sucks. I love every word you write…not because it’s fucking Jane Eyre but because it’s real. Every fucking person I have ever met is afraid of the truth. Clearly, I am meeting the wrong peopke. Whatever you do, whenever you do it, I know that I need to be part of it.

  • Cyndi Bird

    That’s so wonderful!

    I accidently started a bakery with same type of attitude 2 weeks ago.

    I was so scared no one was going to like my baking. I completly understand the fear of being left on the lawn all alone!

    Every week l become more confident and less afraid.

    Thank-you for sharing your story.

  • Carissa Person

    “I get to pick my kids up from school, which is wild and awesome and also kind of terrible but whatever. #blessed.”

    probably the best sentence of truth you have ever written, mucho mucho love!

  • Abi steele

    Strangely, the line- ” I wonder sometimes how we decide what’s worth our time”- made me cry. Navigating wanting to take work while not fucking up my beautiful almost 2yr old daughter… It’s a full time gig just figuring it all out. Or do i go for more where I’m answering to no one and creating my own thing- is that the freedom I long for? Not sure. But this made me think in all the right ways. Love

  • Jodie

    Awesome! The world needs more badass bitches making things happen.

  • Michaela

    Goosebumps and tears. You are so beautifully human. 🙂

  • Renee

    I wish to hell I didn’t live in Iowa. No truer truth has ever been spoken. You are my most favorite human idol, Janelle!

  • Denise B

    Perfect timing, as always, you drop out of the sky and shake me up. Yesterday I was in the mud of the minutia of daily life and today I’m thinking bigger. I don’t know if writing is my thing, but I know I’m going to put myself out there to see what is my thing, and see more and do more than just my sleepwalk. THANK YOU for waking me up.

  • Liza

    AMAZING. way to rock that shit. also, are you ever creeped out by the fact that there’s this shitload of people out there that feel like they know you pretty well through your writing and thus love you, but you don’t know us, thus can’t love us back? because sometimes i’m creeped out by my self. Like by how i read your writing and my second thought (after “that was amazing”) is “I just want to hand out with you!”. LOL. And if I were ever going to take an online writing class, it would be with you. So keep doing them because Christmas comes every year and I”m sure there’s hundreds like me who’d be down to write with you!

  • Carolina

    You look so happy in the last picture 🙂

  • Emma Christensen

    Yes yes yes! High five!

  • Stephanie

    You have done it again. Said exactly what I needed to hear exactly when I needed to hear it. Thank you!

  • Cassia

    When I get to the end of the day, and my brain is numb, and I am cranky and don’t know what to do now that my child is finally asleep, I remind myself I have a fun article to ready by you! Thank you for filling my time with substance. I really enjoy your posts.

  • Josey

    I love this. 🙂 I’ve made some of my best friends online through blogging over the past 7 years, and at least once a year I end up at a meet-up somewhere with someone I once only called an “internet friend.” Good company can be hard to find, and I’m glad you’ve found it!

  • Kristina

    This is amazing! I wish that i could find a group a people to workshop with.