From Margaret Atwood's MasterClass

Getting Started as a Writer

Margaret encourages you to find your own path, overcome obstacles like fear, and start writing by sharing her own writer’s story and creative process.

Topics include: How I Became a Writer • My Writing Process • Finding Your Own Process • Getting Past the Fear


Margaret encourages you to find your own path, overcome obstacles like fear, and start writing by sharing her own writer’s story and creative process.

Topics include: How I Became a Writer • My Writing Process • Finding Your Own Process • Getting Past the Fear

Margaret Atwood

Teaches Creative Writing

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Well, I became a writer partly I think because I was a very early reader. And I was a very early reader because I grew up in the North Woods, and there were no other forms out there. So no radio, no television, no theater, no cinema, no electricity, and no running water, but there were books. We weren't in a village. We weren't in a town. We were actually out in the woods. Except for the winters, we would go back to a city. So other children might be afraid of being lost amongst the trees, et cetera. I was afraid of flush toilets. What was going on there? Why did things just vanish? I was an early writer. I wrote comics, and I wrote little stories, and I wrote my first novel when I was seven. It was about an ant. It was not a great success, but it was illustrated. And then I lost interest in writing. I wanted to be a painter. One of my first entrepreneurial activities was a puppetry business in high school. We ran birthday parties for five-year-olds, and the puppet shows were always about those things that are dear to the hearts of five-year-olds, namely cannibalism. So they were the classics. They were the "Three Little Pigs." They were "Little Red Riding Hood," and they were "Hansel and Gretel." And I started riding seriously again when I was 16. Then I really wanted to be a writer. And I thought maybe I would go to journalism school, and I was discouraged from that by being told that if I was a female working for a newspaper, I would be writing nothing but the obituaries and the fashion pages. This was the '50s. So then I thought I would run away to Paris, live in a garret, drink absinthe, smoke cigarettes, write masterpieces, die young. But first, I would go to English language and literature, because I might conceivably end up as a teacher before jumping off the bridge. Then I ended up going to graduate school at Harvard, which was proposed to me as being better than being a waitress. I would get more writing done that way I was told by those who were humoring me. And I did have one of my advisors say that I should just forget about this writing and graduate school business and find a good man and get married. But I paid no attention to that. So by this time, I was already publishing in small literary magazines, and I was already writing the same kinds of things that I have continued to write, namely poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and roughly speaking, dramatic works. So I continued doing those things in the world of little magazines and small publishing, and I published my first book of poetry in 1966. I made the cover myself out of letraset the little red dots that you put on legal contracts. That book of poetry won the only literary prize that was going in Canada at that time. And I got a letter from one of the few publishing companies that then existed saying they heard that I had a novel. Well, I did have a novel. It was my second novel. My first had come to nothing, but the second one I had actually sent t...

The art of powerful storytelling

Called the “Prophet of Dystopia,” Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online writing class, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories, from historical to speculative fiction, that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret’s creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I’m excited to learn how to “conjur” from Ms. Atwood and eager to start practicing my own sorcery of woven words.

Margaret Atwood is better than I ever imagined. As a legendary feminist author, whose work I have always counted as some of my favourite, this is not a small thing! She's sensational. Thank you so much for this amazing tutorial, I'm sure I'll be coming back for a top-up!

Introduction "Words are inert..." Yes! Make them come alive. Dance on the page.



Tamara O.

"They start with characters, they start with voices, they start with scenes..." Love it.

A fellow student

Identifying and addressing the fear. Yes! I'd not seen my procrastination in those terms, but Margaret is right and now I know how to move forward.

Amadeus M.

This meditation on fear is incredibly powerful. "It's just you and the page."

Shayne O.

I loved the advice about fear. A woman of a certain age my greatest fear as my money depletes is about not being able to sell my book. I have few or any family or friend related fears since marrying a Muslim and Reverting to Islam 18 months ago, so I've already crossed that bridge of pissing people off, she smiled wryly.

Adrian B.

That was a truly enjoyable lesson. The various aspects of an individual's creative process still hasn't been covered in my tertiary course. I feel that the prescribed activity has been invaluable to my current process, which can clearly be improved. Namely my daily word count. My goal is always 800 words a day but I usually fall short by 300, due to editing and reconstructing my work during the writing process; having tried Atwood's 'downhill skiing' method, I can happily share that it's made structuring my current project draft far less strenuous.

A fellow student

Fear of putting your work out there? Hell yes! I truly cannot think of anything more frightening then putting something you've you've put so much effort and so much "you" in it, for people to then think it's a steaming pile of s@#$. I really like how she discussed how everyone has a different process when writing. I jump around what I work on all the time (when I work on it), feeling more inspired to work on a particular part than the other.


I suppose that even the act of consistently making a comment on each one of these lessons will be an act of writing. So let that be part of my writing goal for the time I'm working with this writing class! A thought: One of the writing prompts suggested in the Writers Digest page that is referenced in the Workbook section for this chapter is to look for discarded items that one may find as one walks in the street and to write a scene based on one such item that catches our attention. I find this a very profound thought that could apply to writing in general. Rather than seeking grandiose ideas and meticulously-plotted writing projects, perhaps the most natural way for me to write is to find what it is that catches my attention and then allow myself to muse upon it. The best takeaway I get from this lesson by Margaret is where she says that she never writes from "ideas". I suppose that by writing from "ideas" she means utilizing an artificial process of thinking by which we may attempt to come up with a blueprint for a story or novel, which, by the way, has been how I have approached writing fiction up till now. So what she suggests here is to me a new concept that I find very liberating...

Suzanne B.

I think we will always be getting started. -- I didn't identify with fear of writing. My issue is procrastination (Or was that the form my fear took.) So, I had a sit-down with procrastination and talk through a lot of stuff. By the end of our encounter, I'd whittled down what procrastination provided. As you might guess, not much. But the conversation was really interesting and translated a lot of my dawdling into substantial reasons (I didn't want to discuss) for avoidance. I will write more about my encounter. It did reveal a fear, something that doesn't often crop up in my self awareness (or lack of). I'm taking each lesson slowly and with purpose. Thank you for this opportunity.

Raederle P.

When you Re-Vision it, then new ideas come to you. Love that breakdown of the word "revision"!

A fellow student

I enjoyed very much, her lively expressiveness is intoxicating & endearing, I want to read more of what she has written.