Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

Writing out of the Presence

Workshop Number: 
Ellen Michaud
Who may register?: 
Adult Only (high school with permission)
Experiential Activities: 
half gathering attenders welcome
First half (Monday-Wednesday)

This writing workshop will encourage you to look back over your spiritual journey and explore its struggles, questions, and experiences. The part of you that is always listening to the whispers of God will open more fully, listen more deeply, and guide you into sharing that journey in narrative form.

Workshop Description

As he began his Journal, John Woolman wrote that, “I have often felt a Motion of Love to leave some Hints in Writing of my Experience of the Goodness of God…”  This workshop is for those who share Woolman’s experience. Workshop participants will open themselves to that of God and learn how to listen deeply as they write. They will also sharpen their writing skills, share their work, develop an approach to criticism in the manner of Friends, and learn how the writing process is itself a vehicle of spiritual growth and an act of faith. When they are finished, they will have completed a short narrative suitable for publication or, for book- or memoir-length projects, the first chapter of a manuscript.

Specific topics will include: Deep listening. Discerning what you're led to write. Story theology. Identifying your reader. Preparing to write. First words. Building a story. Sharing a story through publication. A brief overview of publishing today.

Each workshop will begin in silence. As I am led, I will move into a short lecture on the day’s topic. The lecture will evolve into a group discussion as I draw participants into the topic and relate it to essays by writers in the anthology A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Art (Wipf and Stock, 2013).  Worship, lecture and discussion will take about an hour. When I sense the group is ready, we will move into silence and then, as a part of that silence we will begin to write for the second hour. During the first workshop session, participants will be given an initial writing exercise that opens them to a deep pool of contemplation and a centered, writing experience. (In subsequent sessions, the exercise will be replaced by the participants’ own writing projects.) When I sense the group is ready, I will ask them to “Tell me a story” and, during the third hour, we will share our work out loud and offer one another criticism in the manner of Friends.

Workshop participants should bring a laptop on which to write. They should also bring anything that will help them focus on or add details to what they feel led to write—photos for a memoir, a book for review, research for an op/ed—even that manuscript they've had tucked away in a bottom desk drawer for a year just waiting for the opportunity to work on it.


Leader Experience

As the Writer-in-Residence at Earlham School of Religion last year, I developed and facilitated a two-week intensive course called Writing for God. That course, plus a full-semester course called Writing out of the Presence, won rave reviews from participants, according to the school’s dean, and this workshop brings the essence of those courses to the Gathering.  I also developed and facilitated the Vermont Women’s Writing Retreat in 2003; a series of writing seminars, including Writing from the Heart, for Temple University’s continuing education program on Ambler campus from 1992 through 1999; and I developed and facilitated a series of skills-based fundraising workshops for community organizations in Philadelphia from 1974 through 1977 at the request of the Clearinghouse for Community Funding Resources, which, at the time, was a project of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. My work has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Ladies Home Journal, Better Homes and Gardens,Readers Digest, and Prevention Magazine, where I was the editor-at-large for six years. I am the author or co-author of more than 20 books, including Blessed: Living a Grateful Life, which USA BookNews named the #1 Spiritual/Inspirational Book of the Year.