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Writing Tips (Part Four): Five "Simple" Steps to Getting Published

November 3, 2014 | Richard Scarsbrook | Comments (1)

1. Write the best darned story / memoir / article / poem/ novel or whatever else you want to write.

 So. . . get writing!


2. Re-write and revise it until it cannot possibly be any better!

 Cut it!  Revise it!  Rework it!  Finish the job!


3. Send your work out to publishers!

First, get your manuscript into a proper, professional format.  A good resource for this purpose is:

The Writer’s Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats, by Dian Dincin and SeliGroves - With plain examples, this guide shows you how to properly format queries, proposal letters, articles, short story and book manuscripts, play, TV, and movie scripts, etc.

Writers digest guide to manuscript formats

Then, research and find out what magazines/journals/publishers will be most receptive to the kind of work you have created. Some great resources for this are:

  • The Places for Writers website - A one-stop-shopping website for Canadian writers, run by the lovely and talented Barbara Fletcher.  Literary news, contests, calls for submissions, grants and funding, literary organizations, and so much more.  Just about anything useful to a writer on the web is listed here. I use it as the home page on my computer. 


  • The Canadian Writers Market (ebook), by Sandra B. Tooze (McClelland and Stewart) - I consider this to be the one must have book for anyone trying to get their work published or otherwise sell their writing. It lists book and magazine publishers, prizes and awards, agents, grant programs, professional and casual writers’ organizations, etc. I used this book for finding the “right” magazines for several of my early short stories, as well as for finding a publisher for my first novel.

Canadian writer's market

  • Poetry Markets for Canadians, by Marie Savage (Mercury/League of Canadian Poets)- Similar to above, but focusing exclusively on poetry, which most other guidebooks mostly (or completely) ignore.


  • The Canadian Writer’s Guide (Fitzhenry and Whiteside)- Chock full of advice on various topics of interest to writers, including creating, editing, and marketing your work.  Contains a decent listing of various Canadian magazine and book publishers.



  • The Writer’s Handbook (Annual), by Sylvia K. Burack (The Writer, Inc.)- The US equivalent of The Canadian Writer’s Guide, useful especially for it’s listing of US magazine and book markets.


4. Enter your work in writing contests and competitions.

This is a legitimate way to get recognition for your work and potentially get published in other places. 

Beware, though, there are many writing contest scams that exist only to take your money (especially with poetry, it seems).  If you aren’t sure about the legitimacy of a competition, Google it to see if anyone has reported problems with it.

Generally, legitimate contests are run by reputable literary magazines and established arts organizations. Again, the Places for Writers website has an excellent listing of these contests.

Many of the writer’s guides listed above will also list legitimate writing contests and competitions.


5. Network with other writers, publishers, editors, etc.

People in the writing business are generally a friendly lot, and getting to know others in the industry can be a very rewarding thing to do. 

  • Join a Local, National, and/or Online writers’ group or organization to take advantage of both the camaraderie and the other services they have to offer. The Canadian Authors’ Association, The League of Canadian Poets, The Writers’ Union of Canada, and CANSCAIP are just a few national organizations for writers.


  • Attend literary festivals (such as Word on the Street, Harbourfront International Authors Series, the Eden Mills Writers Festival, etc.) and go to public readings – Word, Now, Eye, and other newspapers and online sources list public poetry and fiction readings.  Local libraries, colleges, and universities often host author appearances as well. 


  • Listening to your favourite authors read is fun, and also a glimpse into how they are “hearing” their own words when they write them.  Attending readings is also a good way to meet other people in the writing world.

Writing Tips (Part Three): Creating Great Titles

November 1, 2014 | Richard Scarsbrook | Comments (0)

Studies show that a book has approximately four seconds to make a good impression on a customer.  A short story probably gets even less time!  A great title can sometimes be the difference between a story being read and enjoyed and going unread.  The title of your story makes the story’s first impression.

Don’t worry about the title too much until the story is finished.  Then, try to create a title that reflects the genius of your work in one or more (preferably more) of the following ways:

 Three Rules for Great Titles:

 1.  Use Great SOUNDING Words!

 Pay attention to the rhythm, meaning, and sound of the actual words in your title.   Words that sound good together, or that create friction with each other make for memorable titles.

 Some titles that I think accomplish this:  The Sweet Hereafter (Russell Banks), Dance Me Outside (WP Kinsella), Deception (Philip Roth), Fifth Business (Robertson Davies), A Patchwork Planet (Anne Tyler), One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), Cheeseburger Subversive


2.  Use an important Character, Place, Symbol, Metaphor, Theme, or Pivotal Event   

      from your story


Name of Character – Barney’s Version (Mordecai Richler), Muriella Pent (Russell Smith), The Hobbit (JR Tolkien), The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)The Cat in the Hat (Dr. Suess),

Theme – Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Suess), A Wrinkle in Time (Madeline D’Engle), For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)

Place – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith), The Bridge to Terabithia


3.  Pay off the reader!


It’s always rewarding to a reader to get to a climactic passage in a story, to discover WHY the title is what it is! 



Writing Tips (Part Two): Literary Devices

November 1, 2014 | Richard Scarsbrook | Comments (0)

Or,  Imagery, Metaphors and Symbols (Oh my!)

 Great fiction and creative non-fiction are ultimately about ideas and feelings – causing your reader to think and feel.  Since both feelings and ideas are abstract, literary devices such as similes, metaphors and symbols help to clarify or make these conceptions more concrete. 


 Imagery is a literal or concrete representation of a sensory experience or of an object that can be known by one or more senses

 Or. . . Imagery is the effective description of a time, place or thing using as many human senses as possible


 Simile is a figure of speech in which a similarity between two objects is directly expressed; usually the comparison is introduced by “like” or “as”.

Or. . .  A simile is a comparison between two things, using the words “like” or “as” to show the comparison.

 Examples:  “You are like a hurricane, there’s calm in your eye” (Neil Young), or, alternately, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” (Shakespeare)


 Metaphor is a literal or concrete representation of a sensory experience or of an object that can be known by one or more senses.

Or. . . A metaphor is a simile with the “like” or “as” left out, so that one thing is simply substituted for another.

Example:  “I am a rock, I am an island” (Paul Simon)


Symbol is a metaphor that is generally used and recognised by a lot of people; it is not just the private invention of one person.

Examples:  A cross or menorah can represent the religions for which they stand, but can also represent various aspects of the religions themselves (ie. Authority, Peace, Conflict, depending on the writer’s viewpoint).

 A ticking clock can represent passing time, a crowd of people glancing nervously at a town clock tower as they rush along the sidewalk can represent time’s universal control over “civilized” humans, and so on.


Personification is the portrayal of an abstraction (an idea or feeling) as a living person: as with living persons, the name of a personification has an initial capital letter.

 For example, the idea of death personified:  “Silently, gently, Death’s cold embrace engulfed me.”


 Allegory is an organised system of symbols and/or metaphors and/or personifications in which the literal meanings mirror the symbolic or metaphorical meanings. Allegories tend to exist throughout and entire work.

 Examples:  In John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, the Pilgrim travels on a long journey, struggling up a hill, falling into a swamp, coming to a place where a man is in prison, being joined on his journey by another man who encourages him and accompanies him to the very end. The Pilgrim’s journey is an allegory for Christian faith:  the hill symbolizes difficulty, the swamp symbolizes depression, the prisoner symbolizes despair, and the loyal companion personifies hope. All the symbols fit together as an allegory of a Christian's journey through this life towards Heaven.



 1.  Avoid clichés – “butterflies in the stomach” and “a heart beating like a drum” were once good metaphors, so good that they have become clichéd and worn out!  Always try to come up with your own unique metaphors rather than leaning on ones that have been “done to death”.


2.  Avoid “stretching” comparisons – “The ground was as cold as that icy crust that sometimes forms inside a box of ice cream after you’ve forgotten it inside the freezer for six months”. . . well, sometimes it’s better to simply say “The ground was cold.”  If the comparison seems forced or thin, you’re better off without it.


Writing Tips (Part One): Writing, Revising, and Editing

October 29, 2014 | Richard Scarsbrook | Comments (0)

There are essentially three stages to producing an excellent piece of written work: writing, revising, and editing.


Writing your first draft should be a labour of love.  Purge those words onto the page with as much passion and fury as you want to.  Most of the feeling and creativity happens in this stage of the creative writing process. 

The most important thing to remember when you are writing a first draft is to BE THERE.  If you are writing a sad piece, tears should be welling up in your eyes as you compose your story.  If you are writing about something funny, you should be laughing as you write.  You should have a clear picture in your mind of places and people you are writing about as you write about them.  If you are THERE when you are writing your first draft, chances are that your readers will be there too.

During this stage, write as if your piece is the most brilliant and important thing anyone will ever read.


Okay, so that was the fun part.  Now comes the REAL work. . .



Revision is the process of seeing the work a second time, from a different perspective, as if it is something new (re-vision). During this process, the writer looks at larger issues which affect the structure and meaning of the piece.   When revising, try to look at the work as if you are reading it for the first time.  The writer must juggle words, rewrite sentences and sometimes entire paragraphs.  Sometimes one has to throw away the whole piece and begin from scratch!

This is also the stage where you must remove any unnecessary or redundant words ro passages.  One of the single best bits of advice on revising comes from Stephen King’s On Writing:  “Final Draft = First Draft – 10 per cent”.

During this stage, read the piece as if your harshest critic is reading it, then fix anything that this critic would find to complain about.


Some tips on revising:


1. Leave some time between writing and revising.

 Once a rough draft is finished, set it aside for at least a day and come back to it later, with a fresh mind and the energy to seek and destroy the errors in it.

2.  Read the piece aloud

If we read the paper aloud slowly, we have two senses (seeing AND hearing) working for us. Thus, what one sense misses, the other may pick up.

3.  Read as if you are hearing the piece for the first time.

Remember that You are Writing for Others.  Make sure that another person will understand what you are saying. Are you actually saying what you mean to say?

Alternately, have somebody else (who will be honest and forthright – probably not your Mom) read the piece, or read it out loud to someone. 



Editing is simply proofreading. When you edit, you correct problems like typos and grammatical errors; you read through the paper line by line and make simple changes. Generally, editing occurs when the paper is considered a finished product, almost ready to turn in.

Watch out for words that your word processor recognizes as “real” words but aren’t the ones you actually meant to use.  Watch out for shifts in verb tense!  Watch out for repeated words!  Watch out for unnecessary adverbs and adjectives!

During this stage, read your work as if you are a curmudgeonly, old-school grammar teacher that strikes students on the knuckles with a ruler for every error.

Some tips on editing:

1.  Again, leave some time between revising and editing. 

 Fresh eyes catch more errors.


2. Read through your piece SLOWLY.

 This will help you catch mistakes that you might otherwise overlook. As you use these strategies, remember to work slowly. If you read at a normal speed, you won't give your eyes sufficient time to spot errors:

 Reading aloud encourages you to read every little word, as does reading with a "cover" (sliding a blank sheet of paper down the page as you).


3.  Use the “Find” or “Search” function on your word processor.

 Typing “ly” into the search box is a great way to find and eliminate unnecessary adverbs!  Typing a simple comma into the search box is a good way to find and eliminate run-on sentences and comma splices.


4.  Cut out Wordiness Wherever Possible.

Don’t write “They are desirous of ...” when “They want ...” works just as well.


5.  Watch out for Colloquialisms

Don’t write something like “Her behaviour flipped me out”, because such phrases are too vague.  Try to be more vivid and direct, like: “At first her behaviour stunned me, but then I found it funny”.


Some Suggested Resources for Creative Writers

October 29, 2014 | Richard Scarsbrook | Comments (1)

Hello, fellow writers!

There are many, many useful books on the art, craft, and mechanics of writing!  While this list is far from exhaustive, here are a few that I have found useful:


Roget's Thesaurus

The Oxford Canadian and Webster's Encyclopedic dictionaries

Also, baby naming books are helpful for finding names for your characters, and having several from different eras is really helpful!



Style, Grammar, Editing Guides


The Elements of Style – Strunk and White,

The Elements of Grammar – Shertzer,

The Elements of Editing - Plotnik

Writer’s Choice – Northey and Proctor

Eats, Shoots and Leaves – Lynn Truss

Acommodating Brocolli in the Cemetary – Vivian Cook (the misspellings are intentional!)



Creative Guides       


On Writing – Stephen King

A Passion for Narrative – Jack Hodgins

Writing Fiction - Burroway

Writing Life – Rooke

The Art of Fiction – Gardner

The Joy of Writing – Berton

How Stories Mean – Metcalf, Struthers

The Miracle of Language – Lederer


So … get reading!  And then get writing!

An Introduction

October 28, 2014 | Richard Scarsbrook | Comments (0)

WIR office

Hi, there!

I'm Richard Scarsbrook, the Toronto Public Library's Fall 2014 Writer in Residence.

I will be working from the beautiful North York Central Library, meeting with a large number of deveoping writers to provide them with individual advice on their fiction and poetry manuscripts, as well as presenting workshops that I hope will benefit writers of all kinds.

You can find out everything you need to know about my residency at the library's official website, and you can learn about me, my books, and my literary adventures at my official website and author blog.

I enjoyed meeting many of you at the introductory event for my residency, and I am looking forward to working with many more readers and writers in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned!  I will be posting writing tips and more in the next few days!

During his residency, Richard will work on three new books: a novel called Meet Me at La Bodeguita del Medio, a short story collection titled Rockets Versus Gravity, and a poetry collection called (d)Evolution. Through workshops and one-on-one meetings, Richard will draw on his years of writing and teaching experience to help developing writers find their voices and perfect their works.
Writer in Residence Program