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Tips from writers: Margaret Atwood

It’s time for another instalment in my series on writing, and today I’m bringing some words of wisdom from another writer that is still actively writing; the wonderful Margaret Atwood. This is my fourth instalment in this series, if you have missed any or all of the first three you can find them linked at the end of this post. I hope you enjoy reading!

Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 121
Image sourced from Google Images

Author Bio

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 and is widely classed as being Canada’s greatest living writer. She has penned numerous novels, short stories, works of poetry, and plays, with notable works including The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and its recent much anticipated sequel The Testaments (2019). During her impressive writing career Atwood has been the recipient of many awards and honourary degrees, including The Booker Prize twice (for The Blind Assassin and The Testaments).

Writing Tips

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word”

There is a pattern that quickly emerges with Atwood and her thoughts on writing: just start.

“Every writer will evolve an individual way of working”

“The right way of doing things is whatever happens to be working for you”

These are important points; listening to and absorbing advice is great but ultimately the writing process is different for everyone.

“Courage! I think that is what’s most important”

It’s nerve-racking to create something that you know will be subject to scrutiny. Every writer must be brave.

“There’s no shame in backtracking. There’s no shame in revision. There’s no shame in realising that you got it wrong, or that there’s a better thing you can do that’s better than what you have done”

Rather than strive for perfection first time, instead get something written and worry about making it better later.

Margaret Atwood - latest news, breaking stories and comment - The  Independent
Image sourced from Google Images

“You become a writer by writing”

Seems obvious but it’s worth reminding ourselves that actually writing is far more beneficial than spending too much time thinking about how to write or the best ways to approach writing.

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself”

This point is very similar to the one above about courage. Be brave, write and forget about anybody reading it and then what you produce will be organic, and probably your best work.

Further research

Margaret Atwood has a wonderfully straight to the point attitude, one that is entirely devoid of any arrogance. Her approach to her own writing journey, and her main point of advice for any writers is predominantely to just get on with it. Enrich your knowledge with lots of reading, and just write. Simple as that. It’s an inspiring outlook for sure, and one that can muster confidence in any aspiring writer that they too can write if they get on with it and give it a go. Perhaps this attitude and approach has some grounding in her own background. Born and raised in Canada, she has shared many times how difficult it was to become a writer in that geographical location at the time that she began writing seriously (1960s). It was more difficult still to garner success as a woman. She began with poetry, not simply because she wanted to, but because it was an easier path to publication. In essence she did what she had to do, and wasn’t it worth it, for herself but also for us as her readers.

There is a wonderful piece (both informative and humourous) on her website where she speaks in depth about resources for writers, you can find it here if you would like to read more from Atwood herself.

Margaret Atwood has nominated the 12 women who are shaping our future |  Style | The Sunday Times
Image sourced from Google Images

Some relevant quotes

“It’s tough out there in Bookworld. Tread carefully. Don’t speak so softly that you can’t be heard, nor so loudly that you’re deafening”

“I plan and structure as I go along”

“Don’t listen to any advice before you start writing. Just start”

“I read for pleasure and that is the moment I learn the most”

“A word after a word after a word is power”

What are your thoughts on Margaret Atwood’s tips and advice? Any points that you strongly agree/disagree with? As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

Tips from writers: Roald Dahl | Tips from writers: Maya Angelou | Tips from writers: Stephen King

Thanks for reading, I hope that you enjoyed!

Find me on: Instagram | Pinterest | Goodreads

Until the next time…Jess x

18 thoughts on “Tips from writers: Margaret Atwood

  1. Writing the truth – not expecting ever to be read. Those words alone encourage me to carry on…
    Years ago, I read Margaret Atwood’s acknowledgement that she had been lucky – lucky to be discovered. Thanks for the link too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, it’s a great way to overcome the fear of writing 😊 interesting point, makes me wonder how many other great writers haven’t had the luck of being discovered. I do think an immense talent like Atwood’s has a lot to do with her success though, perhaps there is some luck involved but that’s not all of it in my opinion 😊

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  2. Great post, as always Jess, and great advice for writing from Margaret Atwood. ‘Just start writing to become a writer’ and ‘have courage’ are great tips and I wish I’d heard them years ago. I so wanted to start writing and put it off for almost ten years 😦

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  3. What a great post! The idea of writing something not expecting anyone to read it is fascinating. There is definitely a sense of this in the Testaments. I really liked the informative/ humorous piece you put a link to on her website. I like what Atwood says about reading for pleasure and learning from that. Great photos too. I hadn’t seen your Tips from Writers section. I will definitely take a look. What a great idea!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Laura 😁 really kind of you to say! I agree, I felt like The Testaments was somewhat of a window into her consciousness, as in she’d just written and allowed it all to fllow 😊 Yes agreed, I must say that I have found my writing has certainly improved since I stepped up my reading again, have you found the same?

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      1. I really like how your writers tips pieces have the motivating quotes and the background of the author . Yes, I agree with what you mean about the writing being like a window into her consciousness. I think psychologists do a similar thing where they get people to draw randomly. Reading more definitely helps the writing flow. I think writing more makes me notice more when I’m reading too. I have a notebook on the go but I keep writing shopping lists in it!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I really like your choice of writers to focus on too. Yes, Atwood speaks some very wise words. She is definitely a bit of a hero of mine!

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  4. Fascinating stuff, thanks for sharing. I’m planning a series of Creative Writing seminars just now, so found this very useful. I would probably add not to aim for making a story all things to all people. Worthy as it is, it just can’t happen, and attempting it becomes one of the greatest barriers to creativity.

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    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed and I’m so pleased it will be of use to you 😊 I did a Creative Writing module as part of my degree and really enjoyed it 😊 Yes I agree completely, reading is so subjective isn’t it, what works for one person will not work for another 😊

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