Writing Through Roadblocks

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 09:38 min

Learn Margaret’s advice for overcoming challenges such as constant interruption, writer’s block, or a narrative problem you can’t figure out how to solve.

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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You become a writer by writing. There is no other way. So do it. Do it more. Do it again. Do it better. Fail. Fail better. I think it's a good idea, especially when you're-- you're younger, you keep your hand in by writing something every day. So I recommend it. But it's another of those recommendations that I myself have been unable to follow. I think it's a-- it's a question of being able to improvise your time. You come across these descriptions of how people in the golden age, all of them were men, managed their time. So they got up in the morning. They had this lovely breakfast prepared by somebody else. And then, they went into their oak bookshelved study and sat at a large mahogany desk and they did some writing. And then, someone would come in with a silver tea service and they would have some tea or something. And then, do a bit more writing. And then, they would have a lovely lunch, prepared by somebody else. And that would be cleared away. And then, they would go back and do a bit more writing. And then, they would have a lovely stroll around the gardens, maintained by their gardener. And then they would have some choice friends in for the evening to another lovely dinner prepared by somebody else. So that's not my life. And it's probably not the life of many people that you know. So for that reason, you have to be prepared to be interrupted. [MUSIC PLAYING] A lot of things that-- that-- that interest me involve problem solving. I still paint myself into a corner and then try to figure out how to get out of it. So a lot of it is a bit like that. But it's also, I think, just-- just the process, which has always made me quite happy and involved me quite deeply. I know that it's fashionable in some circles to talk about how much you suffer as a writer. And you do suffer in-- in some ways, particularly if you're delving deep into material that you find painful or that is objectively painful. But I probably wouldn't do it if it was-- if the suffering was greater than the reward. If you're encountering a blockage-- I won't say a block, but a blockage-- there are two things you can do. One of them is go for a walk. This is a well-known, ancient remedy. And the next one is go to sleep. So tell yourself the problem. Go to sleep. When you wake up, you may well have the solution. And another good thing is ironing. Ironing-wise, it's a repetitive manual activity. It's quite conducive to thoughts coming in from the-- the sides, which is what you need when you've hit a block. Discipline, sticking to it, fortitude, grit, get back on the horse that threw you, all those types of things. They are all very well to say, but if the person's problem is that they don't have those qualities. How do you foster them? How do you-- how do you defeat the devils themself, doubt, that are usually the-- the things that are stopping people? It's always better to actually do something. You sit down at the keyboard, pick up th...

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.

The way she explains things and how easy they are to understand is just out of this world! Absolutely worth the money!

I’m excited to learn how to “conjur” from Ms. Atwood and eager to start practicing my own sorcery of woven words.

Margaret Atwood get more stars than I can give her. Her instruction was by far the best in the "Writing" series here on Masterclass. I would love to meet her in person. By the way, I ordered two of her books off of Amazon.

I'm an elementary school teacher, as well as an aspiring writer, and so many of her tips enhanced my understanding of narrative writing. I love how "open" Ms. Atwood is to embracing all styles of writing, rather than criticizing one form or style over another. Her manner of speaking is both engaging and encouraging. What a mentor!


Velma B.

I am finding, as I listen to the lessons, that I am jotting ideas and thoughts to create within my novel. Very helpful.

Raul C.

Very, very, immensely appreciate your Master class. May I get to know about the music on the background of this video? It inspire me. While watching your presentation and listening to the music I was writing ideas and events for the story I am writing.

Kirk S.

Hello dear heart! I love the way you teach! You're wonderfully delightful, charming and inspirational with great enchanting affection! Everything you impart with your fervent ken is simple, not simpler! Brian and the Brains (a painting I did from my DYSTOPIAN fairytale on trans-hu-man-ism!)

A fellow student

I'm here to learn more about dystopian writing not writing in general, misleading topic.

A fellow student

I'm enjoying and learning from all of MA's lessons so far, but so many things in this particular lesson were extremely helpful and practical to me. The comment about how even if you think the writing is crummy, it's still important to do it because it means your mind is engaged and you can take a step back and look at it afterwards and see if it works or not has effectively told the raging perfectionistic in me to chill out!

Linda F.

Sometimes someone needs to remain us, be kind to you, write, fail, love what you do. Thank you Margaret.

Carolyn S.

dearest Margaret, You are adorable! Truly - your wit, your wisdom ... your humanness and kindness. And most of all your sardonic humor. You are a treasure and I love you. Carolyn (an illustration I did for my DARK fairy tale on climate change)


I loved that Virginia Woolf quote about illuminating what was already there in the dark.

Sharon C.

I have a book in my drawer that editor after editor told my agent, "This is great! Someone should publish it," but they didn't. Why? They hated the protagonist. Writing is risky. Clark Burland

Karey B.

Husband always knows when I'm trying to write a synopsis: it's the only time I iron.