Arts & Entertainment

Revision: Seeing Your Work Anew

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 08:02 min

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.

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.


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. [...

About the Instructor

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.