Writing, Arts & Entertainment

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.

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Topics include: Writing Is a Vocation The Gift • Artistic vs. Commercial Success • Don’t Give Up • Take Inspiration From Robert Louis Stevenson • Your Letter to the World • Your Ideal Reader


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...

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.

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Margaret Atwood

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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