Margaret Atwood’s Best Writing Advice

I first became acquainted with Margaret Atwood when I took her Master Class on writing a couple of years ago. I was lured in by her trailer for the class, never having heard of her prior to signing up for Master Class. She is highly engaging, dry, and as smart as they come. Throughout the course, I feverishly took notes and would recommend her class to any writer, new or seasoned.

Since the 1960s, Atwood has published 17 novels, 17 poetry collections, 8 collections of short fiction, 8 children’s books, 3 graphic novels, 10 works of nonfiction. You might know her best from The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, or The Blind Assassin.

Here is a short Margaret Atwood biography to acquaint you with her background, education, and credibility. 

11 Helpful Writing Tips from Margaret Atwood

  1. “I get my ideas from the world around me: Newspapers, magazines, books, histories.” Atwood isn’t alone on this method of extracting plot from the everyday goings on in the world. The reason I mention it in this list, though, is to reiterate how abundant plot ideas are when you take the time to look around.
  1. “A good plot has to have something happening in it that is of interest to the reader.” Develop an engaging plot. Atwood says in her Masterclass, that no one wants to watch a film where the perfect family is living the perfect life. We need disruption!
  1. To be a better writer, read more. Atwood grew up in the woods without any of the technological comforts we all know. She had little choice but to read, and has said it made her a much stronger writer.
  1. Write fast, revise later. She suggests you write fast like you’re downhill skiing, and get it all out. Then, go back and revise later. This is a really helpful tip for those of us who expect perfection the first time around. It’s better to just get it out of you and worry later about the details.
  1. If you’re blocked, it’s probably unfounded fear. Atwood suggests that if you’re afraid of people reading your work, write under a pen name. She also says that you don’t have to show your work to anyone, so don’t worry about criticism in the early stage.
  1. Change up an existing story. You’ll see me talking about this often. Take a story you know, block it out on paper, and change some details to see how your version would go.
  1. Remember, not all characters have to be likable. Many of Atwood’s characters are capable of violence and twisted behavior. That’s real life, and in fiction, it’s what makes stories interesting.
  1. Start with the unexpected. Then, move with the unexpected, and end chapters with the unexpected. Remember, there is no story if all is going perfectly.
  1. Have an unbiased party read your finished manuscript. You need someone with no stake in the story to read it and give you honest feedback. Ask how fast they read it (which indicates how interested they were in the story) and if anything left them feeling confused. Then, you can make necessary changes that will make your book more appealing to a general audience.
  1. Your story has already happened somewhere, on some scale, somewhere in the world. Look into similar cases to your story. See how they panned out. When researching, look for other points of view to give you a new outlook, and possibly something unique to add into your story.
  1. “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” Don’t wait for creative lightning to strike, or you may never write a single chapter. Start writing, see where your story goes, and worrying about editing later.