Writing

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.

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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.
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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.



Reviews

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

I loved Margaret’s MasterClass. I chose her class first and I have learned so much. I have been greatly inspired by her teaching.

I can do anything I want with my work until I send it out to the world

I can’t thank Margaret Atwood enough for sharing her knowledge and experience and insights. Her wit and honesty remain like the smile of a Cheshire Cat.

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


Comments

Jane B.

Completely binging my way through this course, but keep coming back to this concept of fear. Very interesting hearing from everyone about respective fears and how they work to hold us back. How many of us have something incredible inside of us to bring to the world of literature but are struggling to realize it because of a nagging fear? One of the things I found comforting about reading Atwood's 'Negotiating with the Dead' was hearing many/most writers (at least at some point) feel like imposters. Are we really any good? Do we deserve to call ourselves 'Writers'? Being obsessed with words gives way to certain anxiety about how well we've used them. And yet, isn't it also good to feel that anxiety and fear? Doesn't that make us accountable for the words we use and how we use them? The stories we tell and how we tell them? It's a delicate balance and certainly worth exploring how that fear both helps and hinders.

A fellow student

I’m so glad she said the ideas will come. I never start a project because I’m always fearful the idea isn’t good enough.

Alyssa M.

When Margaret exaplained how writers start and not with ideas, I was like,"Okay! That was it!" The music in the background, the dark room with a bed in a corner. The story that demands to be born starts somewhere in a place, or maybe in a picture of a tub where the half-filled wine bottle is.

Nikolaja

Dear Atwood friends...🌸 I'm just getting started. Any advice on what I should pay special attention to?

Ayla D.

I see how to download the lesson as a PDF, but where do I find the Workbook?

Colleen

I like what she said about different things working differently for different people. A lot of the things I have been taught to do rarely work for me.

Katherine R.

So on fears...I discovered that my greatest fear is that I won't be honest enough to write anything gutsy. This is perhaps my greatest fear because I do not know what I mean by it. There area lot of things in life that are both hurtful (as in inflicting hurt) and painful (as in experiencing pain). I don't know how you can honestly portray a human life without "going there," as they say. But I don't relish it. And there are details in situations that I know that I do not think I can bring myself to put on paper. And I find myself asking, "Is it dishonest to spare the gory details?" I think these are bridges (I say bridges because I am sure this will happen more that once) that I will have to cross as I come to them. Maybe this fear will have to faced again and again.

Lee Y.

I'm going to scream. The Master Class app stinks and is hard to navigate the course content. So the ease of my iPad is useless. I get notifications someone commented on my comment and then I can't find it. I have to scroll through all these other comments and can't reply back. The email might say "lesson 2" but looking on my PC, the lessons are not numbered. For all the time and effort put into creating the classes, this supporting web work is not simple to navigate. I need a tutorial.

Dan U.

See the scene. What is the entirety of what you see? This lady is like a character out of Breakfeast at Tiffany’s. Audrey Hepburn was in that one.

Alice B.

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