Students find community by writing together online

Howard Sussman and Regina Ogmundson. Photo by Dan Toulgoet.
Ephemeral Writers Guild members Howard Sussman and Regina Ogmundson. Photo by Dan Toulgoet.

If the pandemic had a silver lining, it might be how people of all ages learned new ways to connect with one another. For one keen group of students in the Liberal Arts and 55+ program, taking the plunge into online learning has led to the creation of a supportive writing community.

The Ephemeral Writers Guild, as the group calls itself, was the brainchild of instructor Annie Smith. While teaching creative writing online to 55+ learners during the pandemic, Annie heard from a number of students who wanted to continue their writing journey beyond their final class. Her solution was to invite them to form an ongoing writers group, which launched in 2021.

As Annie explains, the group’s name “speaks to the fact that our work, when read aloud to each other is ephemeral, and that we have the freedom to attend as we are able.”

Each month, the group gathers on Zoom to write together using a variety of writing prompts. Following each prompt, everyone takes a turn reading aloud what they’ve just written. By the end, every member can leave the session with two or three pieces of writing they can build on if they wish.

This free-flowing writing practice was a draw for original group member Regina Ogmundson. The regular meetings help her to keep writing, she explains. Although some writers have more experience under their belts than others, no one critiques the work—and no one is ever pressured to read their own efforts. For Regina, the sessions leave her feeling lighter, she says, and she takes comfort in seeing her Zoom screen filled with familiar faces smiling and nodding as she reads.

“Everyone really listens to each other,” she says. “It’s very encouraging.”

Aside from developing her own writing, she says she finds inspiration in others’ work. “So many of the topics become sparks that stay in my mind a long time.”

One of the group’s newer members, Howard Sussman joined after taking Annie’s course on writing stories from life. While he’d never considered himself a writer, he discovered a love for storytelling—and perhaps, he adds modestly, even a previously unrevealed talent.

Although Howard had taken several courses in the 55+ program before the pandemic, learning online was new to him. As a self-described “non-tech person,” he says he was surprised how much he enjoyed certain aspects of online classes, such as the chance to meet learners from outside the Lower Mainland.

“During COVID when we were isolated, these classes were your community,” he recalls. “You couldn’t go and have coffee with your friends. But in Annie’s class, we created that sense of community.”

The fact that he and his classmates were willing to be vulnerable and share their deeply personal stories brought them closer together, adds Howard. Now, through the Ephemeral Writers Guild, he’s found an extension of that nurturing community.

“The people in the group are delightful, and I really enjoy the writing process,” he says. “I learn something from listening to what the others talk about, what they’ve written. And I learn something about myself too.”

The group currently totals about 20, with members attending meetings when they can—including Annie whenever she’s free. “It is lovely to see everyone,” she says, “and fun to write to other people’s prompts.”

Still going strong after two years, the Ephemeral Writers Guild may not be so ephemeral after all.

By Kim Mah