The Joy of Writing: A Guide for Writers Disguised as a Literary Memoir

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Doubleday Canada, 2003 - Biography & Autobiography - 336 pages
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Drawing on his fifty years as an award-winning journalist and author of some of the finest books on Canadian history, Pierre Berton has written a witty and practical guide for writers. With almost every book a bestseller, clearly this writer knows what it takes to succeed in the publishing world. From the all-important rule of “knowing your audience” and other essential writing tips to down-to-earth advice on dealing with agents, publishers, and editors, The Joy of Writing covers every aspect of non-fiction writing and includes interviews with twenty-seven of Canada’s leading writers. Illustrated with more than thirty manuscript pages from Pierre Berton’s own works. Includes Interviews With: Alex Barris • Ted Barris • Jack Batten • Fred Bodsworth • June Callwood • Stevie Cameron • Robert Collins • Elaine Dewar • Will Ferguson • Trent Frayne • Bob Fulford • Charlotte Gray • Richard Gwyn • Stephen Kimber • Ken McGoogan • Roy McGregor • Linda McQuaig • Farley Mowat • Knowlton Nash • Peter Newman • Stephanie Nolen • John Sawatsky • Russell Smith • Edna Staebler • Walter Stewart • Betty Jane Wylie • Jan Wong From the Hardcover edition.

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About the author (2003)

Prologue
Letters to the Author


“I think I’m at wits end . . .”

Dear Mr. B.: Enclosed please find a poem of mine. I am sending it to you in blatant attempt to use your influences, experience, or direction, whatever, to get it the recognition it deserves . . .


Dear Mr. B.: It is my understanding that you have some consideration of Canadian writers, or do know one who do write books, etc.

I am not a writer, but do have an idea for a book that would make Gone with the Wind look like the amateur hour. I may be mistaken, or perhaps my idea has already been used, but to my knowledge it has not. I am not looking for wealth.

What I am trying to say, I guess, is that I would like to be introduced to or be given, the name of someone who writes, and could put my ideas in print. If the Canadian government and the U.S. government would allow it to be published, it just might make a difference in all our priorities.
I apologize for bothering you like this . . .


Dear Mr. B.: I wonder if you would give me some advice. I am a Senior Citizen and have just completed a book, a very simple one, but it has been a challenge, which I have enjoyed.

It is of a semi-religious nature, containing my own thoughts, plus those of more authoritative and better-known individuals.

I wrote it for two reasons, one already mentioned, a challenge, and because I wanted to have something to leave my family . . .

The temporary title is “How to Find Lasting Happiness” and contains about 25,000 words . . .

I would appreciate any advice you can give me, because I know nothing whatever of the publishing business . . .


Dear Mr. B.: I need help. I don’t know exactly why I’m writing you but . . . I think you must be an honest person who still possesses the spark of humanity. This latter trait seems to have been completely smothered in the writers or public figures I’ve happened to meet.

In a nutshell -- I write. I write well. This is no misplaced ego but merely an evaluation and resulting statement. I do a few things well in this life but creative writing is one of them.

I am not selling -- or rather my work is not selling. Or is it the same thing in this game? And I would like a little advice, maybe a few answers.

For example Chatelaine has had a number of my short stories but they are lambs and I am Mary. Okay, sure, if I had any serious doubts about the quality of my writing. But I don’t. There is lots of rooms for improvement & I will steadily improve but at the present I can write as well as writers who have had their stories published in this particular magazine. Better than some, worse than others . . .

I do not want to become famous. That is not why I write. I do so because I have something to say or a discovery to share or a problem’s solution or an atmosphere to put across. And I need money, so lately I have been submitting. And submitting. I do not want to return to a 9-to-5 job . . . I love being a home-maker . . . I’ve had about 56 part-time, temporary, full-time jobs from gas station attendant to nurse’s aid . . .

I write stories, articles, novels (I’ve just completed one, another is 1/3 finished), ads, poetry, and letters . . . How does one get started? Is the decision to publish really based on quality? Help!


Dear Mr. B.: I intend to write a book about 300–350 pages, a pocket edition, partly fact and partly fiction style. I have laid down the outlines but in order to make it more vivid and descriptive I have to seek the help of book-writers. Will you kindly suggest the name of one or two writers who could spare time to write and publish it, please?


Dear Mr. B.: I write this letter with great expectations to quote a title for Dickens.

To begin with I have written a book and that is a very strange thing for me to do because if you knew me you would understand this. For instance, I have no education beyond grade four of public school. In school I hated pen and paper and had one of the highest hooky records in the city of Toronto, but the one thing I have always loved is reading, and I have endeavoured to try and read good books . . .

I have a wife and seven children . . . but due to an accident . . . I can no longer work . . . Being an ardent reader about famine, hydrogen bombs, germ warfare and these continual bloodthirsty wars, I felt I had to do something as a human being and this strange story popped into my head. The characters ran around in my brain, they woke me up out of a deep sleep and they pestered me until I started to write them down and they kept at me until I finished it. When it was over I found that they lived. They lived in my mind and now they live in the pages of this manuscript. It is a strange story but I believe it could happen. I call the book “It Could Happen Tomorrow” or an alternative title, “The Cave.”

I do not know how I go about getting publishers to look at it, that is why I have written to you asking your help . . .


Dear Mr. B.: It is Christmas time and what better time is there hoping Santa Claus (you) will make a dream come true. I am 58 years old and my children think I’ve gone off my rock. Since they are grownup, married, and made me a grandmother, instead of retiring to a rocking chair and clasping my hands and watching the world pass me by, I have decided to write a book. I have always had this idea but never discussed it with anyone because I have been too busy until now . . . My problem is how to protect my material from being copied or disclosure of ideas if I sent in a script . . . It will probably end up in a wastebasket but I want to try anyway. Well I have taken up enough of your valuable time and hope you can advise me . . .


Dear Mr. B.: I am writing a true story, a “biography” but I am not a writer. I have a grade ten education and know very little about writing only by experience of reading a lot of books . . . What I have decided to put on paper it’s my true experience and I’ll tell you that it’s between “Grapes of Wrath” and “Peyton Place.” I’ve read “Peyton Place” twice and what I tell you it will sound like a children’s story comparing to mine . . .

I write exactly as I remember it, to make sure you know I’m not lying. But I cannot publish it because I wouldn’t want my children to be facing cranks of all kinds and saying I know it’s your mother that wrote this. Therefore it would have to be all names and places anonymous to protect the innocent. I don’t know why you couldn’t help to write this book . . .


Dear Mr. B.: I think I’m at wits end trying to get started in my writing career. It’s not really the money that I’m interested in, but expressing my feelings to the public. I guess you would know what I mean. I would like to write for my own local, but I’m having no luck at all. Some people don’t seem interested in getting me on the right road at all. I’m in a rut. Please could you tell me how I could get my work published?


Dear Mr. B.: As a Canadian citizen who has been going through the ordeal and the frustrating experiences which are similar to those that have been experienced by the genuine Canadian writers -- have been advised to seek your valuable advice.

My manuscript is very original and controversial. It is about 200 pages of facts, charts and tables which may be considered as one of the valuable resources that deal with man’s nature. It has taken more than ten years of my life to formulate. To some professionals it is seen as extremely provocative, others are longing to possess a copy of it as a useful indispensable book, and to the layman it would be fun to read. It has been read critically by some professionals whose comments extend from extreme positive (i.e. “it is a masterpiece of work that is very much needed” and “it will certainly need a noble prize”) to extremely negative, (i.e. “it is filthy” and “it must be banned because it has a mighty potential that would rock the boughs of some professions.”) Since it has been read by some leading professionals, I have been having difficulty in seeking employment with any of my three fields of specialization, i.e. sociology, psychology, and education . . .

My endeavours with the publishers have been failing. I shall appreciate your valuable advice as to how to go about publishing my manuscript with little or no fanfare needed. If justice reigns, I have no doubt whatsoever that my little book will find a respected place in the national and international markets gradually but steadily.


From the Hardcover edition.

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