Writing is an outlet to express oneself, either personally or fictionally, and the most courageous step to take is beginning. Ellen Sue Stern, a Minnesota author, discovered her love for reading as a child. “I was a kid with a flashlight under the covers at night,” she says. Now, she’s the author of 20 books and a writing coach for aspiring authors. Based in St. Paul, Stern leads the Cathedral Hills Creative Writing Workshops, giving writers the push to continue their work even when life circumstances stall their creativity, something all too familiar to her.
Stern began experiencing chronic pain in her twenties, which started as migraines and intensified throughout the years. To help manage the often debilitating condition, Stern moved to the Blair House Condos in St. Paul with a friend. While there, she met the owner of coffee shop Nina’s Coffee Café, based under the condos. June Berkowitz hired Stern to work with her on a book she was writing, and their collaborations sparked an idea: They started leading writing workshops in the café to empower fellow writers. “I used to find George Bernard Shaw’s quote, ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach’ to be cynical, but not anymore,” Stern says. “Helping mid-wife people’s work is very invigorating.” Nina’s Coffee Café’s hours recently changed, so Stern now leads the Cathedral Hills Creative Writing Workshops in the Penthouse Blair House Condos, hosting about eight writers for an intimate setting.
Stern’s workshops welcome all writers—from those developing concepts to those preparing for publication. “Each week is about moving forward,” she says, regarding the momentum of the group workshops. Writing and staring at a computer by oneself can grow lonely. The group meeting, over the course of three hours, expands the writing process beyond the screen. “Writing with others is more fun,” she says. “It sparks momentary excitement and comfort.”
But writing is also a vulnerable experience, and sharing work with others can feel intimidating—especially since many writers, including Stern, find inspiration in their personal backgrounds. Trust built over time makes the workshop a safe environment. Moreover, sharing personal anecdotes can help test those stories’ relatability. “Find the place where personal and universal come to meet,” Stern says, offering advice to writers. “This is where your story will resonate with you and readers, making something into a book that people will love.”
Despite her chronic pain—and partially because of it—Stern keeps tapping into her curiosity and energy to write. “I currently have about seven to eight things to be written in a pile; I’m not sure what will be next,” she says. Writing is also a tool, Stern has found, for healing. “When you write, you release, like in therapy or with a life coach.”
The next workshops will take place on October 3, 10, 17, and 24 at the Penthouse Blair House Condos. Each session lasts three hours, giving everyone the opportunity to receive feedback on his or her progress. Many writers continue to send their work to one another after the program. Learn more.
Ellen Sue Stern