Friends General Conference

Together we nurture the spiritual vitality of Friends

Writing out of the Presence

Workshop Number: 
Ellen Michaud
Who may register?: 
Adults Only (high school with permission)
Experiential Activities: 
only full time attenders (participants should attend all week)

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

Writing out of the Presence is an opportunity to sit in the silence, open yourself to that of God,  and learn how to listen deeply as you write. You will also sharpen your writing skills, share your 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. 

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.

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. 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  just waiting for the opportunity to work on it.

Leader Experience

As the Writer-in-Residence at Earlham School of Religion in 2012, I developed and facilitated a summer intensive course called Writing for God. That course, plus a fall 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 2018 Gathering—just as it did when it was offered for the 2014 and 2017 Gatherings.  The workshop at the 2014 Gathering was a powerful experience for me and the 24 who attended. One Quaker elder who participated characterized the writing, verbal presentations of the writing, and criticism offered in the manner of Friends as reaching the level of "vocal ministry." Lives were changed, articles have subsequently been accepted for publication, at least two books are underway, and each and every one of us has been drawn more deeply into the Presence. For many of us, the workshop was one of God's greatest blessings. 


I  also facilitated a Writing out of the Presence retreat at Woolman Hill in 2014 in which 4 of the 6 retreatants achieved a new understanding of their writing and learned how to remain aware of the Presence as they wrote. They also became aware of several personal or craft issues that had prevented them from moving forward to serve others and resolved them.  Additionally, I offered a five-day Writing out of the Presence  workshop at the 2015 New England Yearly Meeting Sessions. 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. And, finally, I currently write inspirational articles as the editor-at-large for Live Happy Magazine