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.

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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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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.

It was wonderful to soak in all that wisdom. So charming! I am overflowing and likely to watch it again! Thank you:)

I'm leaving this class with a full heart and a notebook filled with inspiration, guidance, and tools. This class is a wonderful opportunity, and the format made it feel like a conversation with her. I was sad to reach the end.

As I thought, concise, to the point, amusing and informative.

Thank you Margaret Atwood for sharing your knowledge. I feel so fortunate to have been able to take a creative writing class from someone I admire! I will take the wealth of information and apply it to my writing.


Comments

A fellow student

Writing has been by hobby since childhood, later I studied English literature but I always get very nervous when writing and sharing. I've been to workshops but always feel people say they like what I do out of niceness. also, English is my second language so I'm excited about this challenge! Hope to find my voice!

Galadriel T.

I was excited about starting the lessons, but this is even better than I thought! (and I was super excited about it). I loved what she said about the readers naming June because they did the math. Brilliant!

Paul D.

She lays out her thought about the process of writing in a very simple and direct way...paper is paper and words are words...which words you deploy determines the impact of your story...the words you choose are not "wrong' necessarily...they simply change the story.

Kelly

This first lesson reminds me of a saying that I learned in college. "IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED, TRY, TRY AGAIN" She never gave up trying to become a author.

Jamal D.

Hi, great lessons , i am into writing romance novels with a bit of spice. I have been reading a few romance novels to get ideas and styles and found a very interesting one that had a theme about a married man being had been harrassed by his female boss at a legal firm. This novel had a lot of legal issues concerning harassment in the work place. It has plenty of romance and erotica aswell but lots of legal information. How does a writer get information to write let's on a subject like this or let's say a love affair between a social worker and an inmate. If one does not have this knowledge at hand. Does a writer of fiction have to be an investigative journalist aswell to know that for example like that the novel I read concerning the plot. Although it is fiction but there has to be a sense of reality in there just like the social worker falling in love with the inmate. Does the write need to learn about prison rules, about social work about falling in love with an inmate and so on.thank you

Sarah R.

Brilliant way to name a character by literally "showing" and not "telling." In love with this class already!

Mark

Oh Margaret! Not only are you incredibly talented but you're adorably cute in this (insert swoon here).

Morgan W.

I never thought of the readers in that way; it's so insightful and makes so much sense. I'm excited to see what's next

A fellow student

Incredible I like the part about how she talks about the reader defines what meaning the book has and not what the writer wants

A fellow student

I like what you say about words and the page. We have to create everything through words. I also like the fact that writers write and the world interprets the writing. It was a different way to start a class on writing...