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


317 pages
ISBN 0-385-65997-0
DDC 808'.02





Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University. She is the author of several books, including The
Mountain Is Moving: Japanese Women’s Lives, Kurlek and Margaret
Laurence: The Long Journey Home.


The back-cover flap specifies 49 books. And there’s another record: 50
years on television and radio. Obviously, Pierre Berton is not a man
lacking in energy, talent, or ideas. His autobiography or “literary
memoir” does double-duty as a guide for writers and as a lively
examination of the craft of non-fiction, an activity to which the author
has devoted so much of his life.

Berton’s delightfully dry sense of humour leads him to start this
very personal memoir with some of the letters he has received from
aspiring writers; the prevailing tone of these letters is one of
desperation, reminiscent of a desert-island survivor raising a ragged
flag. In the table of contents, subtitles for chapters include “Grab
’em by the throat and never let go” (the route to a good story) and
“Use a bad review to sell your book.”

Berton calls “writer” a “weasel word” and devotes a chapter to
proving the point that in one sense we are all writers. His writing tips
including the following: “Save everything! Master the art of
recycling,” “Never underestimate your subconscious,” and “Read!
Read! Read! Write! Write! Write! Rewrite! Rewrite! Rewrite!”

Like Roy MacGregor and Jack Batten, Berton served a long apprenticeship
with newspapers and magazines. He published his first book at the age of
33, even though the need to write, “or at least to tell stories,”
had been with him since his teen years. This is a writer’s guide
disguised as one of the best darn memoirs to be published in many years.


Berton, Pierre., “The Joy of Writing: A Guide for Writers, Disguised as a Literary Memoir…,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 14, 2024,