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Words with friends


May 22, 2012

J. Boone Dryden is the co-founder of the Milwaukee Writers Workshop.

Both novice and seasoned writers, at one point or another, have what Nobel-prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee calls the "bout with the page." Itís that drought when the words canít find their natural rhythm, or donít show up at all.

Thatís just one of the issues a good writersí group can address, says J. Boone Dryden, who, with Niki Robinson, co-founded the Milwaukee Writers Workshop.

The organization offers seminars, workshops and classes on topics of interest to those who write for personal satisfaction, want to get their work published or dream of penning the next blockbuster novel. Some need encouragement and gentle critique, Dryden says. Most need practical, real-world advice.

"Writing is a very solitary endeavor most of the time," Dryden says, "but I think being with a group of creative individuals allows you to expand your opinion of your writing, other writing, and sort of feed off the creative juices of other people."

The Milwaukee Writers Workshop has two groups at the moment. A group based at UW-Milwaukee, Dryden says, consists primarily of college-aged writers, and the Ozaukee County workshop attracts a mature band of writers who enjoy writing memoir. Few participants consider themselves full-time writers.

"In the six years that Iíve run (the workshop), weíve had maybe three creative writing or journalism students," Dryden says. "Weíve had everything from retired architects to Milwaukee police officers. Writing is important to them, but they just donít know how to go about it."

In publishing, he notes, it pays to establish relationships with fellow writers as well as editors, agents and representatives of smaller presses. Today, the large publishing houses do not want to take risks, and are more inclined to buy manuscripts that promise to be sure commercial winners. First-time authors will likely have better luck approaching smaller publishers that specialize in particular genres.

One way to connect with people who can share the benefit of their experience is to attend a writersí conference. For the past several years, the Milwaukee Writers Workshop has organized a free conference called WriteCamp. This yearís all-day event is scheduled for May 19 at the Hide House in Bay View.

"The idea behind it is very ad hoc," Dryden says. Local authors, poets, editors, journalists, bookstore owners and coaches offer free poster sessions on topics like ghostwriting and publishing trends.

"It works out way better than I thought a bunch of writers would be able to do," Dryden says. "Itís a fun, big event and we really try to pull in as much of the community as possible."

Dryden will be hosting a session, too. Although he describes himself as a "mostly a short story guy," has been published online and has edited anthologies, he is currently working on a novel to go with a role-playing game, or RPG. With a degree in creative writing from UW-Milwaukee, Dryden says his studies focused on the classics, but he is a "big fan of H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and dystopian fiction."

And, like the participants in Milwaukee Writers Workshop, Dryden has a day job that has little to do with writing, but, he says, affords him the time and flexibility to pursue his craft.

Get Your Group On

Several groups in the area offer workshops, roundtables and critiques for aspiring and experienced writers:

Milwaukee Writers

Seminars, workshops, critiques and an annual free writers conference. For more information on the conference, scheduled for May 19, visit

Redbird-Red Oak

Writers roundtable critique groups, networking, opportunities to read work at special events, classes for young writers. Founded by Judy Bridges, author of "Shut Up and Write."

Milwaukee Writerís

Diverse group of writers who share writing, publishing and marketing tips. Editing and critique groups, workshops and the opportunity to appear on "Meet the Author" cable TV talk show.

All Writersí Workplace and

Waukesha-based group offers online and onsite classes, workshops, intensive coaching, professional editing and writing contests. "Celebrity Saturdays" offer the opportunity to meet and learn from successful authors.


The Milwaukee group offers a series of programs for language artists from high school to adult.


This story ran in the April 2012 issue of: