By Val Wallace
MANASSAS, Va. – More than 40 aspiring writers attended Saturday’s Rising Writers Workshop, held 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church in Old Town Manassas.
Most who participated are creative writing students at the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts (CFPA) specialty program at Woodbridge Senior High School, said Linda Johnston, the event’s co-organizer.
Johnston is a member of the local Virginia Writers Club chapter Write by the Rails (WBTR), which sponsored the event in collaboration with CFPA.
“We had 36 people pre-registered and a total of 42 including those who signed up today,” she said during the workshop. Organizers had hoped for 60 participants, but “the turnout was wonderful” for this first event, Johnston said.
During the workshop, nine speakers and panelists, many published authors, led interactive discussions in three one-hour-and-a-half sessions that each covered a separate topic: poetry, publishing and science fiction/fantasy.
The workshop also included five “mini-sessions,” on a variety of writing-related subjects, that about 12 CFPA students planned and led, Johnston said. The workshop culminated with a 45-minute open-mic session in which participants who signed up for the session could read to the audience a three-minute portion of their writing.
Organizers consider the workshop a success. “I thought it went very well,” Johnston said. “It’s so successful that we’re considering making this an annual event.”
She said that the event appeared to be a positive experience for everyone involved. “It was exciting to hear what these kids are writing, the projects they’re doing. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” Johnston said.
“It’s part of our [WBTR] charter to encourage and nurture the next generation of writers, and there’s a lot of them in our area, but they’re not particularly visible,” Johnston stated. “We’re trying to bring visibility to our young writers in the Prince William community. Our published writers in Write by the Rails are great mentors.”
“The community support we got is reflective of Prince William’s creative writing community,” added co-organizer and WBTR member June Forte.
CFPA creative writing students Alaina Johansson, 15, of Bristow, and Woodbridge resident Chelsea Miller, 16, were among participants.
“It’s really fun. I didn’t know what to expect,” Johansson said while the two friends were in a mini-session. “It’s more people than I was expecting. I was surprised in a pleasant way,” she said. “I learned different types of techniques I can use to give my writing more structure.”
“I loved the sessions. I’ve never been to a weekend workshop before,” said Miller. “I was really nervous at first, but I saw Alaina, and then I was reassured that this would be fun, and it is. I’ve learned things I can do to improve my writing. I know what to do differently now.”
Prince William County partially funded the workshop with a portion of an $800 emerging arts grant it awarded WBTR. “The grant allowed us to keep the cost of this to a minimum for the participants,” Forte said. “In researching young writers’ conferences, I found the average cost was more like $40 to $45. Our fee was reasonable.”
WBTR also received financial support for the workshop from a number of local businesses, including Tackett’s Mill, in Lake Ridge, which donated $500, Forte said. Nearly 20 other businesses donated gift certificates, gift cards and coupons that ranged in value from $10 to $50, she said. Organizers used these for workshop raffle prizes awarded throughout the day.
About 15 WBTR volunteers helped during the workshop, Johnston said. Panelists also volunteered their time. “We had a great group of volunteers. They made all the difference,” she said.
Kathy Sabrio, of Manassas, was one. “I just joined WBTR seven months ago. I used to be a high school English teacher, and I just know how much talent is in all of our classes,” she said. “I think our generation should be doing everything we can to bring along the next generation of writers and teach them how to get published.”
Sabrio is working on her first novel, a work of historical nonfiction, she said. And she isn’t the only budding author in the area. “The creativity I’ve seen among the students today promises that some really good books are coming in the future,” she said.
Freelance writer Val Wallace, of Manassas Park, is a regular contributor to Prince William Living and is also on the magazine’s editorial staff. She can be emailed at [email protected]iving.com.