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More than two dozen writers gathered at St. Mary’s College of Maryland last month for the second Chesapeake Writers’ Conference.

“We write in isolation,” said Matt Burgess of Minneapolis, a fiction workshop leader at the conference, who believes it essential to write with other people, not to fix or change one’s work, but “to help you see what you’ve written.”

“It’s very difficult to write in a vacuum,” said Jerry Gabriel of St. Inigoes, director of the conference and visiting assistant professor of English at St. Mary’s College. Chesapeake Writers’ Conference workshops, he said, allow aspiring writers to understand what readers experience with their writing.

At least one of the workshops focused on the marriage of images with writing.

“Writing With Pictures” was led by Matthew Hall of Flagstaff, Ariz., a freelance artist and professional cartoonist. Hall worked with a group of four participants on the skills and concepts of putting together graphic novels, comics and picture books.

“Writing With Pictures” was one of five writing workshops offered, and one designed specifically for younger writers, at the conference, held June 23 to 29.

The June 27 afternoon session of the workshop brought a small group of students around a table in Goodpaster Hall overlooking the college’s track and townhouses; a document reader at the front end of the room projected their work, as well as Hall’s own creations, onto a digital screen.

Class began with diary entries, kept throughout the week. Each student was given the option to share a short, four-panel comic strip they had drawn in their sketchbooks for homework.

Next, there was an in-class exercise. On index cards, everyone had recorded things they overheard and said in the last 24 hours, as well as catch phrases or slogans and interjections. On another set of cards, students had to draw cartoon images depicting various emotions or situations; both sets of cards were intermixed as thumbnails with captions to demonstrate how pictures and words can be “interdependent,” as noted in Scott McCloud’s book, “Making Comics,” which Hall then used for lecture.

Down the hall on Friday, a fiction workshop with Burgess was wrapping up.

Everyone gathered round laptops, notebooks, handouts and cups of coffee, and class began as Burgess directed one writer to read aloud a portion of a short story; the group read along on their monitors or with hard copies. After another student gave a summary of the story, the group made corrections and Burgess gave everyone the opportunity to clarify points of confusion.

The discussion analyzed character development and how the climax operated. Agreements and disagreements were offered in a friendly manner as laughs were shared.

As the writer being “workshopped” remained silent, typing up notes on what was being said, Burgess emphasized the importance of determining which character the writer wants readers to empathize with in a story, suggesting that writers need to be conscious of where the story starts and what the “moment of the story” is.

The Chesapeake Writers’ Conference featured five faculty and 27 participants of varied ages. Hall’s workshop was designed for high school students, while the others were geared toward adults out of high school. Along with Hall and Burgess, writers Elizabeth Arnold, Anna Maria Spagna and Patricia Henley offered workshops in poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction, respectively. Twenty-one general applicants were selected and six St. Mary’s College students were awarded scholarships to enroll.

Following a lecture on June 23, afternoon classes were held Monday through Friday, in addition to lectures, craft talks, readings and panel discussions that students could attend at their leisure; these were open to the county as well. Students had the option to participate in a reading of their own work on Friday night.

Gabriel said Friday that the conference “creates an instant community among the participants.” Its mission is to build an “experience that fosters this sense that writing matters.”

The qualifications for admittance to the conference included a writing sample and personal statement to gauge how serious applicants were about writing, but Gabriel stressed the application process did not assess talent or skill.

“We have a spectrum of abilities at the conference,” said Gabriel, who was looking for individuals who have a “belief in writing as a meaningful art.”

Tuition was $750 and $450 for Hall’s youth workshop. The youth workshop was nonresidential and commuters were also welcome. People from many states, including from the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West regions, participated alongside Southern Maryland residents.

Though the conference was smaller by comparison to last year’s numbers of 37 students, Gabriel believes it was comparable to last year’s activities, citing the quality of the participants and instructors. “The feel of the conference is incredibly positive,” Gabriel said. “It’s a wild success.”

Hall said, “I think [workshop] gives time and space to explore an area of drawing or writing that you normally wouldn’t have time to do.”

Gabriel said the goal is to have the conference continue on as a tradition. For its third year next year, he hopes to be able to offer new workshops in other areas of writing, such as screenwriting.

To learn more

For information on the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference, visit www.smcm.edu/summer/writing/ or email chesapeakewritersconference@smcm.edu.