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Revision: Seeing Your Work Anew

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 08:03 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.
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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.

I am an aspiring writer and found this class to be so thought provoking and useful. What a delightful lecturer Ms. Atwood is!

I learned that you have to be true to yourself and your writing. I would suggest more tips on how to end a book.

I loved Margaret Atwood, she was down to earth, inspirational, honest and straightforward, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, ideas and enthusiasm. You have given me so much inspiration but more importantly the will and desire to finish what I have started. She is extraordinarily ordinary and I mean that with a complimentary sincerity.

I liked every minute of it and signed up because I saw an Ad of Margaret Atwood, an unknown writer to me. Started the class, read The Handmaid's Tale.


Kamala G.

Really enjoyed the lesson! I have learned so much in just a few minutes! Already have four pages worth of notes! Thanks!

Hydee C.

I belong to a critique group where we read each other's work, so I had five readers for my manuscript. When we all got together and discussed the draft, what a valuable meeting! Some responses were unanimous, so I knew those things had to change. Other responses were very individual, and I had a chance to discuss and understand them, and weigh the five responses against each other and against what I want my story to be. I strongly recommend a writers' group like this. I don't know what I'd do without them.

A fellow student

Most certainly have been suffering with Completion Fear. Thank you for letting me know that that's a real thing and that I'm not quite as crazy as previously suspected..

Michael W.

This is great. “Completion Fear” is a real thing. That’s what I’ve been fighting against for so long. Thank you!

Dale U.

This lesson made me realize that I may be suffering from Completion Fear. Now that I know the symptoms I can work to cure it. Thank you Margaret.

Ashwin N.

Here are two articles about anachronism which she mentions near the end of the video: :)

A fellow student

The lesson given was inspiring and gave me the confidence to now finish my book. I have been revising and editing for so long now that I am so close to finishing. I have 3 books written 2 completed one nearly there. I just need to have enough courage to get it out there. I needed this boost and I’m going to get back on track. This was an invaluable lesson. Thankyou Margaret

Tom W.

Just a helpful tip...she mentioned using the Find function in electronic files. On Windows/Word, push Ctrl+F and type in the word you'd like to search and it will give you a count and allow you to jump to each instance. On a Mac, it is Command+F.

Oona G.

Great lesson! I especially appreciate the reminders to be specific using powers of observation. I can teach my 3 rd graders to look closely and report using their 5 senses. Masking a sense will be fun to try!

Tauna S.

You need three kinds of readers. Those who are bloodhounds for consistency and detail. Those who are nitpickers, who look for spelling, typos, punctuation, and grammar. Those who are avid natural readers, who understand your type of story with a sense of beginning, middle, end; a sense of pacing; a sense of your style; a sense of humor and irony. The first two types can be found to some degree in fans (once you have them) or in writer's computerized programs or paid services. The third type is Golden, and much better usually if not paid in coin, but in reciprocation. "I'll look at yours if you'll look at mine." Meaning a fellow writer, and the old adage works: It takes one to know one.