April 13, 2021

Margaret Atwood's Top 5 Writing Tips

Okay, so my first question wouldprobably be when did you first decide you wanted to be a writer? When I was sixteen.

So a little bit younger than you are now.

And that was in what wecall high school which is what basically you are in and what made me decide todo that because I wasn't thinking about it and the the year before when theywent back to do a documentary on me they interviewed my year before a teacher andusually your teachers going to say “Oh yes, I know she was brilliant etc”but this one told the truth and said “She showed no particular ability in my class” which was true but then I had a different teacher the next year andapparently I don't think it was she who put the idea into my head because in1956 in Canada nobody was going to be a writer so there were no creative writingclasses we didn't learn it when we wrote things in school it was essays.

But Ithink I just I just started doing it and it was more fun than anything so Ichanged career paths I switched from science to writing and everybody thoughtI was mad.




you're laughing at them now! Well, I don't know.

Most of them are dead.

What book of yours are you most proud of and why? Wwhat am I most proud of that I'vewritten? Oh.

I never answer that question.

And the reason I don't is that if I choose one of my books the others willknow about it and they'll be very annoyed.

“We spent all this time with youand you're just dismissing us?” I don't choose amongst them.

I put in thetime on them I must have been interested in them at the time.

How do you create such in-depth storylines and plots? Like how does it come to your head? Wellyou can get the idea for a novel in quite a short period of time but thenyou have to sit down and work at it.

so what they say is 10% inspiration and90% perspiration so the rest of it is working it out and while you're workingit out you often get more and different and new ideas because the idea that youmay have originally started with isn't working out quite the way you thought itmight so your biggest friend as a novelist is your waste paper basket.

Youthrow the things that aren't working unless you think there's something youmight use later in which case you save it and that could be a long process itcan take you know a year two years to work out an idea that you might have hadin five minutes so we don't know where ideas come from they – can come fromanywhere really but it's the working out of it thatmakes it involved and when you're working you know you're looking atyou're looking at structure and you're looking at pacing.

So here is a tip ifyou're writing a murder mystery put one dead body quite close to the front.

Worth remembering otherwise people are gonna be going like : “where's the murder??” Many of your bookscontain emotionally draining scenes.

How do you deal with this as a writer? Emotionally draining scenes? Let me tell you a story.

When my kids were about 5they said we're putting on a play and they sold tickets to the play – $0.

25 so we bought a ticket to the plyn we went to the play there were twoof them and the play started they were having breakfast it's the breakfastmotif and they were saying things like “Could I have some more orange juice?””Yes here it is.

” “I would like some milk please.

” Here's the milk .

“Could I please havesome cereal?” There's the cereal.

This went on for a while and I said, “is anything else going to happen?” And they said no, and I said “well in thatcase we're leaving! “And when you think of something else that's going to happen we'll come back to see the rest of it.

” a story isn't just this and that andthis and that and this and that something has to happen and thesomething that has to happen should be a surprise to the person reading the bookand often to you the person writing the book and of course some of those thingsare going to be emotionally draining scenes because if it was just one happyevent after another people are going to be going “is anything else going tohappen?” so I think we we have emotionally draining things in books because itallows us in a way to wonder how we the reader would deal with that.

So how is thecharacter in the book dealing with it? Do you think they're dealing with it well, or do you think they're not dealing with it well? And if it were you how might youdeal with it so you're when you're reading the book they're right therewith the character.




“Don't open that door!” .



they open the door “Don't go in!” .



they go in.

so you are wandering all the time what would I do if I were that personyou know if I were Harry Potter how would I deal with the dragon that isabout to be executed? Like that.

So, while I'm unsure of what theequivalent is in Canada many of my friends in sixth form that are takingEnglish literature are currently studying The Handmaid's Tale in theirA-level studies.

How do you feel that some of the current maybe future writersof tomorrow are studying your work? Well, they've been doing it for a while and Ithink we've seen some books and things coming along that you might callrelatives of The Handmaid's Tale because remember it was published first in 1985which is quite a long time ago and at the time quite a few peoplesaid “this will never happen! This will never happen in the United States.

” Jump cut to 32 years later.

What can I tell you? It's happening.

Not quite the sameway and not with the outfits but there's been a rollback of women's rights and apush back and we're seeing that happening before our very eyes which iswhy people apart from the fact that it's a very good TV series that's why peoplegot so involved in it.

It didn't seem like a fantasy anymore.

So how do I feelabout it? if there are no young writers there willbe no future readers so every group of young writers that's coming along iscontinuing the tradition of reading and writing so they're part of a very longhistory but if all of a sudden there weren't any young writers that traditionwould would stop.

So that's why it's a good idea to encourage young writers ifyou were keen on the idea of books and and reading.

More young readers andwriters need to come along or else it will all come to an end.

And wouldn't that be sad? lots of your novels are based in adystopian society.

We as humans take comfort in believing that the futurewill be brighter than the present or the past.

Post-Trump do you believe this? Having seen the pushback I actually am quite hopeful because although there isthis desire to roll time back you also see a lot of people saying “no, that isnot going to happen.

” but it is a struggle you know right nowthere are two opposing forces and of course you're optimistic becausethe mere act of writing is an act of optimism.

Tthink of all the ways in whichit is hopeful: First of all you have set out to write a book; you believe you'regoing to finish it.

That's pretty hopeful.

Then you believethat once you finish it it's going to be good – that's hopeful too.

Then you believesomeone will want to publish it: even more hopefulness.

And then you believe ifit's published somebody will want to read it which is very hopeful indeed sojust writing something down presumes a future reader.

You don't write thingsdown if you think nobody will ever read them.

It might be you at a future time, itmight be you reading your own diary that you wrote five years ago but justrecording it means you believe that in the future somebody will be reading itand that's a pretty hopeful thing.

I'd like to ask what would beyour top five tips for young aspiring writers.

How young? So, 11 to 18 specifically.

I noticed that each of you have a notebook.

So tip number one: get anotebook! Write down things that come into your head that you think you mightfind useful later.

So that's number one.

Number two: read a lot and readcritically.

That is, decide 'I like this, don't like that, why do I like this, whatqualities do I like about it?' and notice how the writer is putting the storytogether and how they are handling the language of the story.

So writers haveall been begun by being readers and you will be selecting out from allthe writers that you come across your patch as it were; your your special writers that you really like and youwill be learning from them because we have all learned from other writers.

Number three: pay attention to your posture because writing is very hard.



keyboarding is hard on the neck and the back and you don't noticeit so much when you're young but you it will catch up to you and it's hard towrite when you're in agonizing pain so the back exercises, getting enough exercise, walking around.

If you come to a block and you don't know where to take yourstory next there's two good things to do one of them is go for a walk and theother one is go to sleep because during the walk when you're thinking aboutsomething else the answer may very well come to you and if you give yourunconscious mind.



you know, “I have a problem”.



go to sleepyou wake up you may often find the answer.

But the other, the fifth one, isdon't be afraid to throw things out and by the way when you're writing nobody'sseeing it except you so so don't worry about what other people might think ofit while you're writing it if you then decide that this isn't whereyou want to go, that this isn't what you want to put out there, there's the wastepaper basket.

You have complete freedom while you are writing.

I love The Handmaid's Tale and I also watched the Hulu series and I'm extremely eager tofind out what's happening in season two what was it like having to continue thestory after finishing the book? Well, luckily it's not me doing it.

There's awriting room which has about ten people in it and the head of it is a personcalled Bruce And then there's then there's anumber of other people most of whom are female.

Bruce said that he thought thathe hired all these female writers and thought they would agree with oneanother but that wasn't the case since women are people.

So they thrash itout they have a general story arc and then they break it down into scenes andthey each go off and they write a scene and then they bring it back and they alldiscuss it.

So as a group activity I get to read the script but Idon't have any control so I have no veto.

No writer ever of a novel everdoes when it's a matter of a film or television because it's classicthat writers don't like the product and imagine if they had a veto – they couldsay “well I don't know, I don't approve of this and we're cancelling thismulti-million dollar project.

” So that's why they never do but I'm pretty closeto Bruce Miller and we talked on the phone quite a bit so I have input but Idon't have final say and when you're making a series like that there is noone person.



there's no one person who has total control because when you think ofall the people involved in it for instance Elisabeth Moss is a producer onit, so she gets a say.

And the producers get a say, thedirectors, the people doing the editing.

You sit in the editing room and theymay have shot a scene maybe five times and you have to look at each of thosefive times and decide which one you like best and then they choose that oneand then there's there's somebody who works with color.

They're enhancing thecolor.

So, yeah, it is a multi person enterprise and any one ofthose links might be weak and I think we've been very lucky we've had anexcellent team and I'll mention here the designer, whosename is Anne Crabtree.

So the costumes that you see, the look ofthings, that's that's her work and very painstaking it was for instance shelooked at 50 different shades of red before choosing that particular red.

Again she looked at all of the shades of blue and ended up with that sort ofblue-greeny thing.

They thought of every detail for instance in thecommander's house you'll see some paintings.

Each one of those paintings isin the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

So if you know that, you know that thesepeople have stolen the paintings and put them up in their own house.

And the signatures of the artists on the paintings are the only things you couldread in that house that isn't in the commander's study so of course I asked the obvious question.

I said, “are they the real paintings?” And they said “no no wegot this nice man in China to paint them for us.

” They did a very good job so theythought of every every detail like what sort of silverware what sort of.



theamazing scene in series one where she's given this little pastel meringuecookie so they would have thought of “okay, what are they havingfor tea? Would you like a cookie?” It was a particularly poisonous looking thing so every every detail they've been very mindful of.

They didn't want there to be anydiscrepancies so something that wouldn't be there and in season two they've been very faithful to the main idea which isnothing goes in and doesn't have a precedent in real life, somewhere, sometime, so they have a research team justify those to me.

They will say, “okay so here's where it happened.

” All of those things they'recareful about.

Thank you so much.

Thank you, and very good luck with your writing and everything that you're doing.

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