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.

One of the most positive voices in our field. Margaret has her fingers in so many creative outlets and her words here are encouraging, honest, and helpful!

I love this class with Margaret Atwood. Not only is she a masterful writer - but she is a wonderful teacher! I have learned much...

I literally went through this entire MasterClass in one sitting! This is an amazing and truly fascinating woman who teaches with a style that makes you want to sit down and start to write. I highly recommend this class to ANY aspiring writer, of any gender, of any genre. This is truly a Master Class!

Loved Margaret Atwood's style. Relaxed, articulate, informative, and nuanced. After having written seven novels, I walked away wishing I had taken this course before I wrote the first. They no doubt would have turned out far better. Thank you.


Alice B.

Really enjoyed that. I find Margaret ridiculously inspiring. Wonderful start.

Debbie J.

Very true what she says about not working in a linear fashion. At the moment, I have started a story that I have been told many times seems to be somewhere in the middle. This appears to be true....and that is where I am now stuck.


This was incredibly helpful already! Made three notes on things that were said in the video and have gained a further understanding about my "writing style". The biggest one of the three notes I jotted down was, "Write to write and run with it for a few dozen pages - then worry about the plot." Given the fact that I chose fantasy for my first genre, this one note is probably the most important one; especially since I'm writing from scratch with no references from other stories.

Margaret S.

How happy it makes me to hear from Margaret Atwood that it is normal for a writer to start WITHOUT an idea! My mind is filled with fascinating voices and characters doing interesting things, and I even manage to write fleshed out scenes that that hold the promise of grab-you-by-the-throat things to come, but the problem is, I haven't the faintest idea what comes next because I didn't start with an actual IDEA. I thought there was something wrong with my process, but now I know I'm fine as long as I don't stop the process and and just allow the story to come out.

Carol S.

I am a procrastinator of epic proportions and it has been entirely out of fear. When Margaret Atwood is right, she's right.

Stephanie B.

We might have been sisters back in the day, Margaret. You are so easy to identify with. I actually went to Mizzou to study journalism and then backed out when I realized that I could never be Twink. Twink had a bright pink fake fur coat that made her as wide as she was tall. Her voice filled a room--any room she entered. As soon as you met her, you knew she wouldn't take no on any topic. And in the end, she graduated J school with top grades and went off to write on the social pages of the Saint Louis Post Dispatch. I switched to psychology.

Vanessa G.

How enjoyable this journey has been so far! I'm happy to note that it's normal to try to cobble a story together from the detritus in your head, so nothing to fear there.

Michael Guy L.

I fear my mother will find my notebook and have me certified into a mental institution; I'm not joking.

Rhonda W.

I checked out the links provided in the workbook for this lesson and really enjoyed the Lit Hub selections from writers on writing. Some great advice to accompany Atwood's.

Samantha C.

This has made me realise there's no one right way of doing things, which is great because I've always thought I'm writing the 'wrong' way by not starting with an idea! Characters always come first to me, and it's nice to know that's not necessarily wrong!