Margaret Atwood is a prolific and award-winning writer of fiction and poetry, and now, with her novel’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale becoming a hit show, her writing is becoming ever more popular.
This is exactly the right time to look to her for writing advice, some of which is obvious, some of which seems profound:
If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. — Margaret Atwood
Just start is an old trope of writing advice that I can definitely get behind.
You can’t share (or sell) words that haven’t been written yet, and if you wait for the perfect moment to start, with the perfect idea for a story and the perfect glut of inspiration…you might be waiting forever.
So take it from someone who has written dozens of novels — don’t wait for perfection, and don’t expect it in your first draft, either. Get the words written down and look and strive for perfection once they’re out of you.
Paper isn’t important. It’s the words on them that are important. — Margaret Atwood
I think this is her way of saying don’t be precious with your writing.
You don’t need a specific notebook or pen to write with to get the words flowing.
You don’t have to be in that one particular desk in the library or in your favorite chair at home to be productive.
Just remember that it’s the words that are important, not how or where they come out of you.
Possibly, then, writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out to the light. — Margaret Atwood
Writing can be a lonely endeavor and something we all do for different reasons.
We may not all be working on novels. Some of us may be plunging into our psyches to pull stories out of our own personal darkness. A lot of the best writing on Medium, as we know, come from people who illuminate the darkness inside of them and share it with the world.
Writers write to connect with people and to brighten up their lives. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t want to make the world, even just our world, a better place.
When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else. — Margaret Atwood
See, even Margaret Atwood knows that first drafts aren’t supposed to be perfect. So keep telling yourself that, too, because it’s important to remember.
When we are working through a first draft sometimes it feels like being lost in the darkness, we can’t see far ahead, we don’t know whether where we came from is a good place or if we’re moving toward something better.
We’re almost powerless in our first drafts, but at least we have the power to draft them in the first place.
So, remember, don’t be too precious with any aspect of your drafting — just get the words out on paper whether they’re close to perfection or far from it.
You will always have partial points of view, and you’ll always have the story behind the story that hasn’t come out yet. And any form of journalism you’re involved with is going to be up against a biased viewpoint and partial knowledge. — Margaret Atwood
To me, this is another way of Ms. Atwood saying: just write anyway.
There’s no way you are going to ever be able to make EVERYONE happy with your writing.
You may even piss some people off with what you have to say.
But that’s okay because you are writing for yourself, and when you’re drafting, hopefully, you have that one specific audience in mind who you know will love and support your work and keep you motivated to keep going.
The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it. — Margaret Atwood
If you’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale or have watched the show, you may no that ‘don’t let the bastards get you down’ is a common theme.
We keep our audience always in our mind, but really we have to shut our audience out and be alone with our words if we want to be open, honest, and authentic.
If we are writing fiction and write freely as if our writing will never be read, that is how we produce the most fantastic ideas. They may not make sense at first, but remember, first drafts are for getting the story out, second drafts are for fixing and growing them.
If we are writing articles, such as for Medium, we must go to even further lengths to shut out our audience and write to be authentic.
But who is that one person we are writing to? Is it our inner selves, maybe?
Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it. — Margaret Atwood
Even with our ideal reader in mind, we are still, for the most part, alone with the blank page.
We are putting our time, energy and heart into doing something that might end up just being for us.
We don’t know whether what we write will be well received or received at all in this world, but we write anyway because we writers are hopeful creatures.
If we weren’t filled with hope, we wouldn’t get anywhere, would we?
A word after a word after a word is power. — Margaret Atwood
We are living in a world right now where words are being stifled and written off as ‘fake news’ when we should be listening more closely than we ever have before.
Don’t be afraid to add your words to the fray and embrace your power.
Writing is power.
Having the strength to open ourselves up and bare the thoughts inside of our heads is one of the purest displays of strength I’ve ever recognized, and I know that writing brings me more power and energy than anything else I do in my life to chase after it.
You can change lives with the words you write, you know.
You can create entire worlds.