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Writing Tips from Margaret Atwood

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

There are so many reasons to love Margaret Atwood. Besides her wonderful writing skills, for example, her wit shines through her every sentence. She is a feminist, nature and science lover. Born in 1939, she said there weren't many opportunities available for women in terms of a career. In one of her interviews she says she was given a limited number of choices: stewardess, secretary, teacher, nurse or home economist (!). She said none of these interested her. Despite her parents' wish for her to become a scientist, she decided to become a writer at the age of 16.

Becoming a writer was not an easy process for her. Well, I guess it is never easy for anybody. In her case, many doors were shut for her as those were not the best times for women to advance. Her first book never got published, as the only publisher who contacted her asked her to change the ending of her book in which a woman was pushing her husband off of the roof - the publisher found this very unrealistic. Atwood refused to change it.

She wanted to go to school of journalism after high school but they told her as a woman she could only write obituaries or fashion pages, which she was not interested in, at all. After studying English at the University of Toronto, she started her graduate studies at Harvard University. There, her advisor told her "Forget about this writing business, find a good man and get married." Of course, she didn't listen to him either. All these challenges she faced molded her character development later: strong female characters who refuse to be a pawn of religious or political games in society were going to be the center of her books.

I have gathered some invaluable writing tips from Margaret Atwood by watching various interviews with her and reading about her. I wanted to share all these wonderful words of wisdom with you here. Please share your comment and tell us what you think!

Writing Tips from Margaret Atwood:

  1. Identify your fear: If you have the writer's block, that means you fear something. What is it? Identify it and fight with it. If it is the possibility of being laughed at, nobody will see it until you publish it or until you show it to them. It is not like a stage play, if you make a mistake, you go fix it without anyone noticing it.

  2. Waste Basket is your best friend (Which is equivalent of Recycle Bin on your computer): If you are not satisfied with where you are going with your book, start again. Go back and make revisions.

  3. Importance of the first 10 pages: You need to show the reader an action in the first ten pages to get them hooked. If there is no break in the pattern in the first 10 pages, you might lose the reader.

  4. Decide your voice from the start: Who are you telling this story to? Whose voice do you have? What are you trying to say? Are you going to write from the 1st person point of view or "know it all" third person? Which way could you get your message across to your reader in the most beautiful way?

  5. Know your characters: Not only names. What are their hobbies? What do they like to eat? What color is their favorite? What do they do first thing in the morning? How do they react to certain circumstances? Create your characters and be consistent with them throughout your book.

  6. Don't give up: Writing requires dedication, concentration and investment. But don't give up. Writing is the best thing can happen to you. I wrote 200 pages once. It had 8 characters but the story was not going anywhere, I put it in the drawer. I had another book, 150 pages in I realized there were too many time levels. Back to the drawer. My first book never got published. J.K Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers. Do you see the point? Don't give up.

  7. Do Your Homework: If you are writing for a Western audience, know western culture. Your "Tool Kit" to write - that's what she calls it - would be the Greek & Roman Myths, folk tales, indigenous stories, African stories and the Bible. Understanding these essentials will help your writing tremendously.

With 66 published work since 1961, and 56 Awards, Margaret Atwood has every right to be considered as a legend. I hope that you find her tips as helpful as I did. As we got our daily dose of motivation now, let's get back to work, authors!

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