7 Best Tips for Writing from Margaret Atwood

From a long resume, Margaret Atwood has some great writers’ tips. In her many years of writing, she has produced children’s stories, novels, poetry, nonfiction, graphic novels, television scripts and more. Her writing speaks volumes on their own.

These great writers’ tips can help anyone hone their skill and develop habits for a successful career.

1. Get Writing

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

Margaret Atwood is far from the first writer to tell hopeful scribes that they need to get started. But, Margaret Atwood uses this opportunity to highlight the idea that the perfect is the enemy of the good. She has another quote that backs up this school of thought: “Don’t wait until you’re ‘in the mood.’ Get into the mood by writing.”

These concepts might seem like open-ended or abstract tips for aspiring writers. But, if you think this is an abstract concept you should try taking Margaret Atwood’s advice for face value. Margaret Atwood was never one for mincing words, and this quote is quite direct. You cannot wait for perfection to happen. Because, if you’re waiting for that rush of inspiration, or for the perfect plot to come your way you won’t be a writer.

You can implement this great writing tip with a simple tool: your schedule. Whether you’re using a paper day planner or your smartphones daily reminders you should spend time writing each day. Don’t wait for perfection, or inspiration, start now, or right after you’re done reading this.

2. Use the Tools You Have

“Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.”

One of the best tips for aspiring writers in this day and age is to use the tools you have. It’s easy to think that without a MacBook Pro, an old desk, and a chair with proper lumbar support you’ll never be a writer. The thing is, this scenario isn’t realistic.

Margaret Atwood delivered this quote as a statement that while the best tools can be useful, they are not necessary to get the job done. Writing is a craft starting long before computers, and Starbucks Wi-Fi. Use what you have available, and then transpose your notes or ideas onto a computer (any old computer) when you can.

3. Don’t Stay Stuck

A famous rule of writing from Margaret Atwood includes “… If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.”

Margaret Atwood encourages writers to do what most fear more than anything else. Change what they have already written. As a great writer’s tip, and one of Margaret Atwood’s rules for writing, you don’t need to stay stuck. If you find yourself facing insufferable writer’s block, go back. Maybe even go back to the first page.

It’s a scary thought, but if you’re having trouble writing something your future readers may have trouble too. Take note of the issues and start making changes.

4. Ask a Lot of Questions

If you look at any of Margaret Atwood’s books, you can dissect them into a few short questions. The Handmaids Tale, which made its way from a book to the small screen on Hulu, answers a few key questions. For example, how would you force women back into their former roles? How could America fall? What’s humankind’s biggest commodity?

These questions might seem like really big and broad questions, but they inspired a novel that shook generations.

Ask these questions as you’re writing, or as you’re planning out your next great work. Margaret Atwood says, “The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.”

5. Don’t Make A Mold for Characters

As an aspiring writer, you may have noticed how easily characters can become molded to fit the purpose of the story. But, Margaret Atwood takes another approach.

She refuses to stretch or cut down her characters to make them fit a political agenda or point of view. This advice might seem strange coming from a writer who focuses on taking on hot topics. But, she doesn’t tell writers to shy away from having something to say.

Instead, she gives this great writing tip: “All fiction is about people unless it’s about rabbits pretending to be people. It’s all essentially characters in action…” This tip is a great start for many writers who have a plot but have issues making their characters fit.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Create Fear

Great writers’ tips often focus on creating schedules and building characters. But, the more significant issue sometimes is to create a real enough scenario that creates fear. Although Atwood has entered many different genres through prose, poetry, and script, she isn’t afraid to raise the stakes.

This quote from Margaret Atwood should inspire you to create a little fear: “Heroes need monsters to establish their heroic credentials. You need something scary to overcome.” This statement should remind aspiring writers that their protagonist needs an antagonist. Margaret has proven that this is true in non-fiction as well as fiction writing.

7. Publish with the Right Resources

Many people have different views on how new or beginning authors should work their way into the writing world. But, the truth is that many avenues will lead you towards publication.

Use the resources that you have available to you. For some people, this might mean turning to the Writers Market publications for agents who are looking for new writers. Or, it might mean submitting to literary magazines as there are plenty of them.

Margaret Atwood reminds us of the impact that alternative forms of publication can have, “There would. Be no Sherlock Holmes if it were not for serial publication.” When you publish with the right resources, you can bring your work to life and even larger.

It is unlikely that Margaret Atwood thought that publishing poetry in her early years would take her to transform a book to small screen adaption of a best seller.   Get writing and use the resources you have.