Chapter 9 of 23 from Margaret Atwood

Writing Through Roadblocks

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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.

Topics include: "Be Prepared to Be Interrupted • Writing Is Problem Solving • Illuminating the Dark • Get Better by Doing the Work • Be Kind to Yourself"

Margaret Atwood

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 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.

Analyzing literary classics and her own work, Margaret demonstrates her approach to crafting complex dystopias.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Margaret will also critique select student work.

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Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing