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This blog was featured on 09/18/2019
Margaret Atwood's Best Writing Tips & Quotes
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Written by
She Writes
16 days ago
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
16 days ago

Bestselling and highly-acclaimed author Margaret Atwood is in a league of her own when it comes to writing novels that people want to read. Having written over 40 books throughout her career as a writer, her knowledge on craft and storytelling is invaluable. To celebrate the release of The Testaments, her highly-anticipated follow-up to The Handmaid's Tale, we're sharing Atwood's top writing tips and quotes.

On Calling Her Work a "Feminist Dystopia"

She wanted to write The Handmaid’s Tale, she documents in her 2005 book Moving Targets, as a counterpoint to speculative works such as 1984 that had sidelined women characters—to create “a dystopia from the female point of view.” However, she clarifies, “this does not make The Handmaid’s Tale a ‘feminist dystopia,’ except insofar as giving a woman a voice and an inner life will always be considered feminist by those who think women ought not to have these things.”

Read more in the interview from The Atlantic.

Why She Finally Wrote the Sequel to The Handmaid's Tale

"'People had been asking me to write a sequel for a long time, and I always said no, because I thought they meant the continuation of the story of Offred which I couldn't do,' she says. 'But then I thought, what if somebody else were telling the story? And what if it were 15 or 16 years later? And it was also time, because for a while we thought we were moving away from The Handmaid's Tale. And then we turned around and started going back toward it, ominously close in many parts of the world. And I felt it was possibly time to revisit the question of, how do regimes like Gilead end? Because we know from The Handmaid's Tale that it did end.'"

Read the full interview on NPR.

Publishing for Beginners

"It’s different for poetry and prose. There are a lot of little magazines, literary magazines, and other magazines that are publishing short stories and poetry. They’re still a way in. That you can do without an agent. It is almost impossible these days to have a manuscript read by a publisher without having an agent, because they don’t have time to read that many manuscripts.

"I would recommend someone doing their first writing get to know that literary magazine world. Figure out what literary magazines publish what you want to write. Submit there first. When you have some of those publications to your credit, other people are more likely to get to see your work and an agent might look for you."

Read more from the Writer's Digest article about Atwood.

The Relevancy Behind Her Storytelling

"It's not me who made this stuff up. The human race made this up, unfortunately. What does it matter what I fully intended or not? It is a warning. Simply because I have never believed that it can't happen here... and more and more people are joining me in that lack of belief."

Margaret Atwood talks about how her work, The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments, relates to the politics of our modern age during an interview with CBS News.

On Readers' Perspectives

"'There are different sorts and levels of judgmentalism in people,' Atwood said. She said she doesn’t want to frame the book explicitly, because she knows each reader 'brings to every book who they are, and each one of those who they ares is different.' Faced with the same situations as the characters in The Testaments, 'the question for them is, probably, what would you do? What would you have done?'" 

Read the entire interview on The Atlantic.

Finding the Right Story Idea

"One never knows where writers get ideas. They just come and there is always more information that you can deal with. Getting the ideas is not the problem, getting the time to sit and work out the ideas is the problem.

"I think a lot of novels begin as questions. For example, Handmaid’s Tale began as a question. Really, a couple of questions: "If you were going to take over the United States, how would you do it?" "If women’s place isn’t the home, how are you going to get them back into the home now that they are not there?" "How are you going to make them go back when they don’t want to?"

Read more from Writer's Digest.

Face the Music

"You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine."

Learn more of Atwood's rules on writing from Brain Pickings.

Getting the Writing Done

"Write every day if you can, no matter how awful you think it is. Just keep doing it."

Read the full Cornell Chronicle article on Atwood.

Get A Second Opinion

"You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up."

Read Brain Pickings' "10 Rules for Writing from Margaret Atwood."

Pantsing vs. Plotting

"Never map it out. Just get into it. Jump in, like going swimming."

Read the full interview with Atwood on The Daily Beast.

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