Writing

Introduction

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 04:18 min

Meet your new instructor: Man Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood. In your first lesson, Margaret shares her perspective on the art of writing and who ultimately gives your book its meaning.

Play
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.
Get All-Access

Preview

Creativity is one of the essential things about being human. You don't have to apologize for it. It's something human beings do. Sometimes people say, express yourself. I don't really think that that's necessarily the key thing. Expressing yourself can be shouting in a field. So rather than expressing yourself, why don't you think in terms of evoking, conjuring up for the reader some curiosity, some suspense, some interest rather than this is my ego? [CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYING] If you're a writer, you have a very limited repertoire of tools. Your repertoire is a blank page and some words that you put on it. So you're not making a film. You don't have sound effects. You don't have actors. You only have those words that the reader is reading. And that's what you use to build everything in your story as words. Words on a page are inert. They're like black musical notes on a score. They're inert until the music is played, or in the case of a book, the reader is reading. And when the reader is reading, the words transform back into representations, sounds, smells, colors, people. Reading is the most participative of the arts. There's more brain activity when you're reading that kind of intense text than there is, for instance, when you're watching television, when you're watching film, because the brain has to supply everything with the words used just as cues, clues. So what you're providing the reader with is a score, a score that the reader will then interpret. And all you can do as a writer is make your book as good as it can be. You throw it out into the world, hope for the best. And that's all you can do. You can not dictate to the reader how they should read your book or receive your book. Because the meaning of a book, once it's is out in the world, is not decided by the writer anymore. Even if the writer has thought the writer was putting x meaning into the book, the reader may have quite a different idea, and usually does over time. So Thomas Hardy thought that "Tess of the D'urbervilles" was about the irony of fate, and we think it's a pretty kinky story about what happened to women in the Victorian period. I mean, that's what I think. What do you think? When I wrote "The Handmaid's Tale," I didn't give the central character a name. The readers decided that her name was June. There's nothing in the book that contradicts that. In fact, it all fits. But it wasn't something I thought up. The readers figured it out. It has to be June once you come to think of it, because each of the names that are mentioned in chapter 1, they all occur again in the book except for June. I thought that was pretty smart of them. I'm Margaret Atwood, and this is my MasterClass.


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 have learned I have a lot ahead of me in terms of my research, my character evaluations - so much to ramble on in a small little box such as this one. Margaret Atwood is an inspiration and I am in awe of her ingenuity, her wit and down to earth humour. I loved everything about this masterclass and I am sad to see that I have reached the end.

Ms. Atwood shared very concrete issues about writing from a literary point of view as well as from a personal writing point of view. Thank you.

Thank you Margaret Atwood, loved your class. Enjoyable, entertaining as well as enlightening.

Thank you to Margaret Atwood. As an avid reader of your work, gaining insight into your writing processes have helped me better clarify parts of my own methods I wish to improve. It has been a joy and a blessing to be able to learn from you.


Comments

Alison

A good introduction to the course and to the writer's life I felt. I enjoyed this session....in true MA style it lured me into anticipating what the rest of the course would offer. I've since completed the entire course..and she was true to her word. Loved it, and it's really made a change to my writing, how I think as a writer and my creative self. 🧡

Rich C.

Sep. 2019: Just wanted to mention that Margaret Atwood was recently interviewed on the PBS NewsHour program regarding the release of The Testaments, her sequel to The Handmaid's Tale. You can watch it here https://youtu.be/n_0Rv6l9ZWs or look it up yourself. (Btw, use the url given here, not the link MasterClass creates below--it links to a generic YouTube page.) Good stuff!

A fellow student

I've wanted to do this class for over a year now and was generously gifted it for my birthday. So excited to get started!

Amalia

I’m so excited! Writing was never my dream until a few years ago and, well, now I’m crazy about literature.

Colleen

I loved the statement she made that once the book is released into the wild, the author no longer has control over it. I have read books that were turned into movies and shows and found that how I saw it was not how others did.

Katherine R.

So far, so good. I love the comments about separating the writer's ego from the story. And--as another student has commented--comparing writing to composing a music score. That works for me!

Lawrence F.

I like the lessons. I previewed most of them. Now I'm formally going through lessons, with the lesson downloads, reviewing her works, and taking notes. Thank you Margaret Atwood, for your work, and sharing your knowledge.

Maia

Hey, quick question - I've been watching this in the order they're automatically in so far. Have you guys been jumping around from lesson to lesson, or watching the lessons chronologically? Thanks!

A fellow student

I loved this lesson. She animates me again to write. I have never considered myself a writer but I have published two books and really would like to publish also but have fun doing it.

Susanne B.

I loved it. It's a privilege to listen to Margaret Atwood. She is such a gifted writer.