The Writer’s Path

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 15:53 min

Margaret reveals the one book she recommends to all writers, and shares inspirational stories from writers past and present to encourage you to persevere despite the obstacles you may confront.

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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I don't think the writing life is like deciding you're going to be a lawyer or a dentist. It's not that kind of a decision. I think it's something that you already-- you're already on that path before you know it and you discover it. If you have to stand back and say should I be a writer or should I not be a writer, if you're doing that, then the answer is probably I should not be. When I was starting to write, none of us thought we were going to have careers. We thought we were going to have vocations which is quite a different thing. So our idea of being a writer was not, you know, a six figure contract. It was the garret in Paris with the absinthe and the tuberculosis and being penniless and unknown but dedicating yourself to your art. That was our idea in that generation. People get news of the occasional writer who gets this fabulous contract. And they think that that's the norm. But it isn't. The norm is that most writers don't make a living out of their writing. Don't forget that many well-known writers had other jobs. And I just always assumed I would have another job. I didn't think I was going to have a career as a writer. That did happen, but it wasn't anything I ever thought. And there weren't any manuals of instruction about how to manage your career challenges, because let's face it. It's not easy. It's not an easy life. It's like people who want to be an actor. Do they know how hard that is? You have to really want it. You can make writing into a business, if what you want to write is cookie cutter books. You can do that. You can write certain kind of genre fiction that has a template. And the publishers of it will tell you how to do that. And in that case, it's not a question of career challenges, it's just a question of ticking the boxes. First kiss on page 32. Having a tiff on page 57. First sex scene on page-- and that's how those things are done. But I'm assuming that's not necessarily the kind of writing that you yourself want to do. We're going to talk now about Lewis Hyde's book "The Gift," which is the only book I ever recommend to aspiring writers. There are a lot of books that will tell you how to write. There are a lot of books that will tell you how that author has approached writing. "The Gift" is not about that. It's not even about writing in particular, although it started because Lewis Hyde said to himself, I'm a poet why aren't I rich. So he kicks off from that. And he explores the idea-- which is true-- that there are two ways of exchanging things in our society, but only one of them is ever usually discussed. And the one that is usually discussed is the commercial one. You give money, you get the commodity. The other way is gift giving. And the set of rules for gift giving are different. So an artistic creation of any kind, whether it's a painting, whether it's music, whether it's a book, they have to move through the commodity economy that turns into a book that you buy in a stor...

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.

A bit more animated graphic for her lecture.

I learned to share some of my poetry with others. Thank you very much for your Masterclass Professor Atwood.

This class was a real pleasure. Thank you, Margaret Atwood, for your keen insight and humor. You remind me of the strong women in my family.

Ms. Atwood's humor is contagious and her insights welcome. I'm sorry to see the class end.


shirin K.

This is so insightful and multi-layered, thank you, Margaret, you are a real Master. Respect. The Future Library of Norway is an amazing and visionary project. And thank you for the confirmation that Artistic creation is gifted by a living elder master-artist or an ascended one, and the recipient's responsibility is to honour and cultivate that gift. I look forward to learning further from you in your masterclass, as I work on my novel. Regards, shirin.

Andrea P.

I have always been a writer, even when I was very little. I always had stories to tell, which is probably why I ended up studying journalism. But, it is true that being a writer is a challenge, and making a living from writing is not easy. I guess, at the end of the day, it is about never stopping.


This lesson made so much sense to me and it made the path I'm on seem a lot more real. A lot more possible. This series so far has helped me to refine my skills and to strengthen my confidence in myself and I'm so grateful to be a part of it

Gareth S.

I think I liked this lesson most of all. I loved the idea of the secret library

Caetlin W.

I especially enjoyed learning about the origin of Treasure Island. It was really interesting, and, as a writer, I felt personally wounded when I heard that the publisher lost the map. I just couldn't believe it! Beyond this, I also liked how she revealed that Robert Louis Stevenson got writer's block. We don't usually think of famous authors getting writer's block. It seems like that is just a problem for those of us who are still learning. But this lesson shows us that everyone is still learning. Even Margaret Atwood is still discovering new things such as the future library project. As she said, written works are for future readers, but this project takes that even further. There is no way to know what a future reader would find interesting 100 years from now, so it is impossible to write for him. We just have to write for ourselves and hope it reaches the right reader.


I think this lesson gives you hope and is also re-assuring that we are all on an adventure. Sometimes it's hard to imagine your audience, but they must be in some way like yourself. I am pleased to have found such an inspiring and forward thinking class.

Sandra K.

“There’s no inevitability in the world of art.” One of the best quotes in this chapter. Thank you MA!


I appreciate Margaret's humor and her serious yet realistic messages. I love her sense of humor. Mainly though, I'm at my desk listening, watching and appreciative of the fact that a world-class, talented artist is teaching me (and the rest of us) techniques as well as advising us on how we can manage our writing lives.

Melissa M.

I think I liked this lesson most of all. I kept going back to listen to certain parts over again. I like her honesty, that writing is a hard road, and after much work, we may not get published. I like to think positively, but she's right. I also like, that she says not to give up. Her information about Treasure Island was very interesting!

Kristi B.

The research piece is fascinating (and funny)! I could listen to this all day.