From Margaret Atwood's MasterClass

Revision: Seeing Your Work Anew

For Margaret, revision is an opportunity to take a fresh look at your book and consider new possibilities. Learn the value of soliciting feedback from select readers, and the importance of a good line editor.

Topics include: Show Your Work to Select Readers • Fine-Tuning • The Final Proofing of Oryx and Crake


For Margaret, revision is an opportunity to take a fresh look at your book and consider new possibilities. Learn the value of soliciting feedback from select readers, and the importance of a good line editor.

Topics include: Show Your Work to Select Readers • Fine-Tuning • The Final Proofing of Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood

Teaches Creative Writing

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There's something called completion fear. Completion fear is, I'm afraid to finish it because what if it's not any good? And you can get stuck in that for some time. And here I just say, barrel on through, get it done, and then you can see whether it's-- what else it might need. And remember, you can always revise. If you need a different sofa, you can have a different sofa, because nobody's going to see that until you allow them to. So overcome your completion fear and just finish. What do you do next? Pretend you're a reader. Start on the first page-- is it a good enough first page to hold your attention? Are you going to turn the page or not? If the answer is not, you need a different beginning. So revision means re-vision-- you're seeing it anew, and quite frequently when you're doing that, you see possibilities that you didn't see before and that light up parts of the book in a way that wouldn't have happened if you hadn't done that. So seeing the book anew, seeing into the book. More questioning yourself-- why did this person do that? So why else did they do that? And why else, in addition to that, did they do that? [CLASSICAL MUSIC] Once you feel there's nothing else that can-- that you can do to your manuscript to improve it, that's when you need to hand it to an outside observer. What I like to have is people who are dedicated readers, but who are not in the publishing business. You want somebody who can-- who can give you a true opinion, and it's better if it isn't your spouse. You don't want to have any of those frosty silences over the breakfast table, and you also don't want to have put themsel-- them into that position. So it should be somebody outside, not somebody who's in an agent or a publisher position towards you, but who is a dedicated reader. That's the best, and that allows you to step back, it allows you to see it through the eyes of another person. If there's something that you thought was quite clear but they find unintelligible, they will tell you that. If there is a piece of information missing that they felt they really needed to know, they will tell you that. They will also tell you, this chapter is too long. Or, you already said that, or, I got it the first time. There's only one real question-- is it alive or is it dead? And anything else can be fixed. The best thing is, how quickly did you read it? If the answer is, I couldn't put it down, then you're in really pretty good shape. If the answer is two years, something needs to be done. It's always a good idea to have more than one person. So Person A may say this, Person B may say that, and you consider. But-- but if they're wrong, you will probably know it, depending, of course, on how pig-headed and set in your ways you are. But just remember, when push comes to shove, the buck stops with you, so whoever's advice you may have taken, wherever alterations may have been made, what is on that page is going to be considered your work. [...

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.

My first novel will be out this year. After taking this class with Margaret I see where I can tighten it up and make it that much better. Thank you, Margaret!

Margaret Atwood's words and delivery are an inspiration

I thoroughly enjoyed this class and highly recommend it.

I learned that the terms Utopia and Dystopia are widely misused. The importance of checking writing for sound, eg 's' and 'p's. That inaccuracy in any area can distract the reader from the main task. That the first page and chapter are a critical gateway for the reader into your world and that often times writers choose the wrong entry point.


John D.

This was a very inspirational lesson. It reminded of what my objectives are and what awaits when I reach them. Once again I tell myself, 'just get the first draft completed.'


I very much appreciate the concept of "barreling through" the work with the assurance that I can always revise. I can always go back through it. Believe me, I am trying. But I have a great deal of work to do personally on this front. I find myself going back and reading through a good chunk to catch myself up -- even the next day. And when this happens I cannot help but start editing at that point, then perhaps going back even further to fix more. It can be a roadblock for sure. I just need to allow myself to take Ms. Atwood's advice.

Daniel S.

This brings to mind an issue I often struggle with. How accurate should a novel set in reality be? When I read a book I personally don't care whether a specific phonebox on a real street in Tokyo is there or not. I don't know if that is laziness on my behalf or a willingness to lose myself in the story. A bit of both I suppose.

Caetlin W.

I really liked Ms. Atwood's suggestion of using a ruler to line edit. I already print my stories out when I think they are almost finished. I prefer to read them on paper before submission, because that helps me catch more typos. Using a ruler is the next logical step. It would force me to slow down when I'm reading a story and make me more likely to read what is actually written on the page instead of my brain automatically converting the words so it reads the way I intended it to.

Julie S.

I noticed the pdf's are not downloadable in Safari, but are in Chrome. Then I got to 15 and 16 and they would not download in Chrome, but they would in Safari. So, if you are having trouble downloading, try a different browser.

Craig H.

I finished my novel, gave it to three "Beta Readers" and got back invaluable responses. I revised from their notes, changing things I thought were clear but befuddled them. Now I am in a late stage of fine-tuning before I ask an agent to see it. I am making more changes here than I did in two other drafts, cutting unnecessary words by the bucketful. The result is almost unrecognizable from the first draft. I feel I really did re-VISION the story! Thank you Ms. Atwood for emphasizing this critical part in the life of a book!

Cameron C.

I really enjoy the way she says 'revision' - reVision, see anew, see from a different angle, re-envision.


"There isn't a phone booth on that corner." How important is this kind of minor detail in a work of fiction? How much realism is expected in a novel? Does it affect the story if there is a phone booth or not? Where is the line between literary licence / imagination and accuracy? Unless the phone booth has some significance in the plot, Is it worth getting bogged down in research? The recent film about Mary Queen of Scots -- full of historical inaccuracies -- comes to mind.

Melissa M.

She makes such a good point in reminding us that no one has to see our work until we're ready to show it to them. Revision is key!

J'nee H.

Lots of great pointers and tips not only from Margaret but also from the lesson discussions. Y'all have some awesome, freelance editors, and using text to speech options to edit.