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Arts & Entertainment

Getting Started as a Writer

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 11:14 min

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.

Margaret Atwood
Teaches Creative Writing
Learn how the author of The Handmaid’s Tale crafts vivid prose and hooks readers with her timeless approach to storytelling.


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...

About the Instructor

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 am so glad to learn from the bests! Thank you for this experience! It is very helpful for me as a beginner in this field.

Absolutely loved this Masterclass. Many helpful tips.

Ms. Atwood's writing class has taught me a methodical approach to writing. I have really enjoyed listening and watching her teach various methods. I like her explanations and references to her works. I am reading one of her works, Handmaid's Tale and enjoying it immensely. As a former librarian, this is one of my dreams to learn from an interesting and popular author. Thank you so much!

She covered everything in great detail and I never lost interest. I believe I could listen to her talk forever.


Silvia A.

I have always thought I was bad at writing, until one day I wrote something small and people liked it. I think we are our biggest obstacles to our own goals. I haven't written anything since.... so my biggest advice to myself right now: Get a grip and do it.

A fellow student

Fear is the biggest hurdle for me. Of course, I use other excuses – never enough time, enough energy, enough inspiration. But I think at the root of all of it is a visceral fear that I'm not good enough or I won't have anything interesting to say. That my work will be laughable, meaningless. I am grateful for people like Margaret Atwood that can remind me that creative work is not meaningless – it is everything that is real, meaningful, and human – and inspire me to do it anyway. Many have done this work already. They've used their own voices and I need to do the same. I don't get a pass just because I'm scared.

A fellow student

It's been a long time since I wrote anything substantial. A decade or more, in fact. The writing left about the time I became pregnant with my first child, and it's been a saga of survival since then. I know I need to write. It is an angst and an ache I carry in the depths of me, and the fear that I will leave all of this before I tell my children what I want them to know before I go. My biggest fear, though, is the pain. I have worked so hard on folding all the hurts in on themselves, tucking them away neatly in a little box on a shelf in the recesses of my nowhere-brain. If I cut the ribbon off those boxes, it won't be like Christmas, but more like Pandora. Childhood trauma I just pushed away. That baby I didn't get long enough with. Navigating life with a special needs child. The mental and emotional baggage I carry that haunts me in the faces, fears, and anxieties of the babies I got to keep. There's a lot to say. And nothing to say.


My major fears are being mediocre both in the eyes of other people, and in mine. As she describes, I freeze when I am in from of the page, and jet being there, writing, is all I think about otherwise, all I ever cared doing. But what if I am not up to my own expectations and the value I put into the story I mean to tell?

Kelly A.

I'm not sure if it's an odd fear or not, but mine is fear of running out of steam-of starting well, then running out of plot/ideas/etc and having another half-finished story.


My biggest fear is rejection. In my mind, I think I'm a good writer and people around me believe that but I'm scared that if I show someone my work, they won't feel the same anymore. It's really hard for me to show people any of my writing work, even if it's something as simple as school work.

Liz L.

I have 2 fears. Rejection from publishers and, if a story takes off, publisher demanding more.

Theo D.

I'm afraid of all of these things, LOL. Maybe some other things too. I do feel like I have a head start on making sure my mom (hopefully) doesn't find my writing because I'm already using a name she doesn't know about. One thing: I know I don't have to show anyone my work until I'm ready for them to see it, but I think I'm still afraid that I will *think* a work will be ready to share and other people will wildly disagree and laugh at it. And I feel like having work I thought was finished, or at least presentable, be laughed off might be even worse than if I knew the work was still very rough. Maybe there is no way out of this except to continue to work on building trusting relationships and become ever more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. I did really like Margaret's idea that we might have a writer "helper," or someone we look to psychically for guidance and advice, even if that person is dead. There are many writers I admire and whose work I can't get enough of, but the one who comes to mind immediately as filling this kind of role for me is Shirley Jackson. Of course, Margaret Atwood herself is also acting as a living embodiment of this role via this course, which I think is fantastic. One could even build a whole army/family/critique group of famous writers in their mind to take advantage of different perspectives. I'm going to think about ways I might want to use this tool when I get a little stuck or unsure.


Im new to this so far its so good great purchase! I just don't know how to start my writing. I know I want to write a book/s at least one to say I did it and if it gets published then it will be out there forever. The only thing is, how do I start?

Lesley C.

Very insightful lesson. My fear is that my writing won't be any good - but hey - feel the fear and do it anyway. So I prevaricate and wash the windows instead much as I did at college. But 'unless you're writing something on the page, you're not writing' is probably the best piece of advice I've had!