Tag Archives: Brian Henry

Five ways to start your own writing group—or crash one

Yes, this is our writing group...if Meryl Streep were a member.

The Restless Writers are often approached by people looking for a writing group to join. For the most part, these writers want what we’ve got—a kick-ass little troop that is supportive, energetic, thoughtful, caring, and hells-to-the-yeah fun.

Here’s what we tell these would-be Restless Writers about finding or starting a group of their own:

Dear [Would-be Restless Writer]:

The Restless Writers are a group of three women who get together in person on a semi-regular basis to share and critique pages, act as sounding boards for new ideas, kvetch about our husbands, and drink wine. We think we’re a collective hoot. We think we make each other better writers. 

We love meeting people like us who write and live and tear out their hair trying to do both well. However, we’re not really a formal writing group with rules and deadlines and firm meeting dates, which makes us irritating as hell if you’re looking for structure.

Trying to find a writing group can be like online dating, except with a greater chance of hooking up with sociopaths. You want to find people who have good writing skills, creativity, passion, joy, and intuition. Plus great hair and awesome personalities. We were lucky.

Here are five ways to find a writing group you can call your own:

1) Check out http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.com/ and subscribe to Brian Henry’s e-newsletter (and sign up for one of his workshops too if you’re in Ontario). You could place a call-out in his newsletter for writing peeps in your area. Note: This worked for us.

2) Make friends with an independent bookstore in your neighbourhood. We’re lucky to have A Different Drummer Books and Bryan Prince Bookseller close by, both with plenty of events throughout the year to enjoy and meet other writers at. Even the big-box booksellers have events.

3) Your local library is a great resource—attend a reading, enter a writing contest, or talk to a librarian to see if they know of a local group.

4) Keep an eye on your community newspaper for announcements about writing events. You may even find an article about a certain Restless Writer who was recently interviewed… (ahem, it’s Beckie! As soon as it’s online we’ll pressure her to post the link.).

5) Talk to people! You’ll never know if your co-worker’s husband’s best friend is a writer who’s also looking for a writing group…unless you ask. Shelve your shyness and mingle!

We wish you the best of luck at finding a super-supportive writing group that helps you be the best writer you can be.



Filed under Group meetings, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Starting up

You Come Here Often?

We Restless Writers are still swooning over the great Twitter chat (Twat? Oh dear…) last week with the writing group from Calgary. One question we kept asking – and getting asked – was how we (the Restless Writers) met. It began like many of today’s great relationships do: online.

I had taken some writing workshops with Brian Henry and he suggested that I find a critiquing group for my work in progress. I had no clue how to organize, find or join such a group so Brian offered to put an ad in his popular e-newsletter.

It was like match.com for writers: “Single, writing female seeks same for mutually beneficial relationship. Groups ok.” I received e-mails from an established writer (whose group had broken up a few years prior) and another writer who, along with her friend, was looking to start a formal group that focused more (or at least equally) on the writing as it did on the wine.

Getting ready for our first meeting was like preparing for a blind date: Will they like me? Will I like them? Do I have the goods to keep them interested? We had a meal together and although things didn’t work out with the other writer, Beckie, Maria and I decided to keep going. Now here we are, over a year later, still as enamoured with each other as ever.

Although the wine flows freely and we drown ourselves in a river of melted Brie, the Restless Writers do eventually focus on the job at hand. I’ve basically re-written the first 100 pages of my WIP and it wouldn’t have happened without this group. And we’re not benefitting solely from the critiques at these meetings: the ladies are always bringing magazines and books for general interest or inspiration (i.e. when I had sexy-times-writer’s-block I was given Exit to Eden…consider me officially unblocked, ladies…).

For me, this group is essential. They hold me accountable, bolster my self-esteem, help me through the rough spots and make me a better writer. In fact, they have all the qualities you could ask for in a spouse writing group.



Filed under Blogging, Group meetings, Inspiration, Starting up, Writing resources

The Dance of Dialogue: 21 Tips for Writing Great Scenes

Writing conversations that sound natural can present a challenge for some writers. It’s akin to composing a melody, which clearly, does not come easy to everyone. Unless of course you run with Brahms or Beyonce. Yeah…

We (being: me & Maria) attended Brian Henry’s (Quick Brown Fox) dialogue workshop this week and have some useful advice for others trying to perfect the knack of writing good dialogue.

We managed to collect some useful tidbits, like: 1) the plot is the superstructure for entertaining the reader; 2) if two characters are too similar, you must kill one of them; and 3) forget show-don’t-tell, instead show what’s important; tell about the stuff that’s not! Gotta love new takes on old rules—go Brian go!

So, now dripping of dialogue do’s & don’t’s, I’d like to share them with you.

21 Tips for Writing Great Scenes:

  • Dialogue and narrative must play off each other.
  • Every scene must have a point and advance the story. Subject your scene to the “so what?” test.
  • Always make your characters interesting. Like, give ’em a verbal quirk.
  • Characters should always have their own agenda.
  • Treat your characters as “tour guides.” It’s their job to guide the reader.
  • Dialogue is dynamic. It should not travel in a straight line.
  • Remove extra words! Use words that are pithy & colorful.
  • Do not overdo narrative interruptions.
  • Use contractions freely in dialogue (and in narrative too).
  • The simpler the dialogue tag, the better. “He said” and “She said” are the most common. They’re also so unobtrusive that they’re almost invisible.
  • Trust your dialogue and resist the urge to explain everything.
  • Use narrative to keep characters grounded in their setting.
  • Cut greetings, intro’s, inquiries into people’s health, and/or the weather.
  • Aim to have more than one thing going on at once.
  • Milk the tension! Good dialogue requires tension or conflict.
  • Engage characters in another activity while talking (avoid the obvious: smoking & leaning).
  • Employ irony: create a gap between what your characters say and what the reader knows is the truth.
  • The more dialogue you have, the more readable your story.
  • Ask yourself: Will readers pay $ for what I have just given them?
  • Hook the reader from the beginning; hook the reader as the story develops; and hook the reader by leading them into the next scene.
  • Umm. Did I mention, hook the reader?

 List compiled from: Writing Dialogue Workshop, Brian Henry, July 17, 2010.

The best thing you can do is to READ IT OUT LOUD. This is a great way to test your dialogue. And when you do, perhaps lock yourself in a sound-tight room to avoid the people in white coats…


Need more help? Dialogue Writing Resources:

Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella

Writing Dialogue for Scripts by Rib Davis

Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan Rosenfeld

Upcoming Writer’s Digest Webinar (July 22, 2010): Write Great Fiction: Craft Sizzling Dialogue


Filed under Motivation, Writing resources

The Best of the Worst: The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

a dark and stormy nightHere’s one contest I’m not sure you want to win: the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University. The contest is named for Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose novel, Paul Clifford, started “It was a dark and stormy night.”

This contest calls for entrants to submit entries for the worst story openings ever—as many as you like—of no more than 50 to 60 words. Entries will be judged in categories, and there will be winners in each categories as well as overall winners.

Quill & Quire reports that Canadians have mastered the bad romance category—dubious praise indeed. Reading about it on Canada Day is a little depressing.

My personal favourite is the Vile Puns category. (What’s better/worse than Stray Injures Indy Knight, Hicks Changing Lances or ‘Serpico’ with Alpo chinos.)

Read the best of the worst at the Bulwer-Lytton website: http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/

For contests that you really do want to win, check out Brian Henry’s Quick Brown Fox blog, or pick up the current The Canadian Writers’ Contest Calendar, published by White Mountain Publications.


Leave a comment

Filed under Awards and contests

We’re 1 year old and already toilet trained!

It was a year ago that our little band of restless writers was born. We met like most people do these days – online. I posted a ‘group wanted’ notice on Brian Henry’s most excellent blog and the rest is history.

Beckie is our social media maven – a commenting crusader who tweets ‘til it hurts. Without her, our following would likely be limited to immediate relatives and each other.

Maria is the queen of the quill – an enormously talented and technical writer with a limitless supply of resources for writers in all stages of their vocation.

And me? I just write about how I never have the time or space to write.

Since coming together last year, we have collectively:
· Revised a 300-page women’s fiction manuscript
· Consumed over 20 bottles of wine while scarfing 8 rounds of brie
· Revised a young adult fiction manuscript and children’s non-fiction proposal
· Guzzled Sangria as we nibbled on truckloads of baguettes (with associated dips)
· Uttered, “Holy crap!” countless times when reading Maria’s charmingly disturbing short stories
· Convinced Maria that at least 3 of her short stories must become full novels
· Drank enough Strongbow Cider to fill a hot tub

Our second year looks to be even more promising, with writing conferences and retreats in the works (and, of course, lots of wine). I hope you all keep dropping by our blog…we’ve loved having you…

As for you, Beckie and Maria: happy anniversary…I love you, bitches!



Filed under Group meetings, Inspiration, News

Write short to build publication credits

Participants at yesterday’s “How to Get Published” seminar in Hamilton, led by Brian Henry, heard some advice about how to move from writer to author. Brian said that many agents and publishers are more likely to read your submission if you’ve got proven writing skills—and that means publishing credits. Up your odds of acceptance by writing and publishing articles and short stories.

There are more and more markets for short story writers popping up every day. And you needn’t look any further than your local newspaper.

I’ve been enjoying the winning stories from the Toronto Star’s Short Story Contest for the past three weeks (it sounds like it took a long time, but the Star published one per Sunday). Today’s Sunday Star featured the first place entry, “Take One Down” by Zach Leger. Congratulations to Zach. GTA-area short-story writers should consider entering this contest next year. Your short piece could net you the $5,000 first prize plus the tens of thousands of readers who pick up the Star.

For more contests and markets for your short pieces (and news about future seminars), visit Brian’s blog, Quick Brown Fox.


1 Comment

Filed under Getting published