What I learned so far from Margaret Atwood’s Masterclass (Lesson 1)

As promised in yesterday’s post! This was quickly done, so please excuse me for/notify me of errors.

Anecdotes/Takeaways from Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing — Lesson 1: Introduction.

Format: Lesson 1 is a 4-minute-20-seconds long high-quality video, plus supplemental PDF course booklet. Notes below are from the video.

First note:

  • Margaret Atwood looks beautiful in a red scarf with black butterflies.

Oh, hang on, you probably wanted to know about the writing aspects; not the fashion choices of the instructor. Let’s start again. ;))

N.B. Nothing quite beats having Margaret Atwood tell you the following tasty morsels of writing wisdom herself, if you see the video. But I realize not everyone can afford the membership price, great deal though it is (currently US$199 for a year’s all-access pass, with daily-growing numbers of amazing courses by true masters in the various fields). So, I distill a few bits and pieces of it for you, here. ❤︎

In Lesson 1:

  • Creativity:  First off, MA tells us that creativity is one of the essential parts of being human and we don’t need to apologize for it.

I love that MA reminds us of this. Too often we feel guilty for having or making time to enact this burning desire to create. MA waves away that guilt with a swish of her metaphorical magic wand. (I think of her as my fairy godmother.)

  • Is writing about expressing yourself? MA mentions that some people think that creativity means expressing yourself, but she doesn’t believe that’s necessarily the key thing. Instead of “shouting in a field,” MA suggests INVOKING; i.e. conjuring some interest for the reader, rather than just “this is my ego.”

This is perhaps my own biggest challenge: to learn to stop “shouting in a field” and instead write for the reader.

  • Writing is one of the most interactive arts: MA reminds us that when as a writer, you have a limited repertoire of tools (a blank page with some words on it). She goes on to elaborate that “Words on a page are inert,” and this means that writing is one of the most “participatory” of the arts. There’s more brain activity going on for the consumer than, say, in the case of watching TV or a film. Like musical notes on a score, the words do nothing, on the page, in themselves, until somebody reads them and interprets them.

To me, the above serves as a reminder of the incredible power we have with words to form images and ideas in people’s minds, and to help them form their own, by leaving some things to the imagination. What shall we do with this power? I’d say, hopefully something worthwhile/beneficial to others besides ourselves.

  • Reader interpretation: MA tells us that all you can do, as the writer, is make your book as good as it can be before you send it out into the world. You can’t dictate what the reader will interpret from it.

This is a good reminder that once we set our work out into the world to be consumed, especially in the form of a book, it’s no longer “ours” to babysit. It reminds me of what I once heard one of my favourite bloggers, Glennon Doyle, tell Liz Gilbert in Liz’s Magic Lessons podcast (episode #209): Glennon made up her mind that once she hit publish on a post, she wasn’t going to watch over people’s reactions to it and defend her work. She figured she could either be artist or lawyer, not both.

  • Reader interpretation example: MA herself gives a small, concrete example of reader interpretation: She mentions that in her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, she never tells the reader what the main character’s real first name is/was. Some readers later decided her first name must be June, based on certain clues. (If you wish to know more on this topic, I’ll link here to Wikipedia’s notes on the main character, for your optional perusing pleasure.)

That’s it for today. Do any of these tips resonate for you? Please feel free to discuss in the comments!

Oh, one last thing. Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? For me, having grown up in Canada, and Margaret Atwood being one of Canada’s most widely celebrated authors, the book was on secondary school required reading lists. So I was lucky. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a link to the book on Goodreads, where you can check it out, read reviews, and click through to the online bookstore of your choice, to buy it you like: Goodreads.com

This book might change or deepen the way you interpret recent US political events.


xo n

9 thoughts on “What I learned so far from Margaret Atwood’s Masterclass (Lesson 1)

    1. Hey, right you are, Matthew! Everyone else: It’s showing as an update on the front page of her site right now: http://margaretatwood.ca/
      Says it’s due to be launched September 10, 2019 (also interesting timing, I’d say). It’s to be called “The Testament” and takes place 15 years after the end of The Handmaid’s Tale. Let’s pray it’ll have a happy ending!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: MA’s MasterClass, Lesson 2. – Bloomwords

  2. Bernie Delaney

    Loved reading her tips, especially the one about invoking interest, rather than writing from ego. Can’t wait to read The Testament whenever it is published.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Being something of a fan of Margaret Atwood (Oryx & Crake and Handmaid’s Tale being favourites), I was drawn inevitably/eventually to the above post. My eye though kept returning to her ‘red scarf with black butterflies’ detail –

    It’s a something and nothing…

    [A couple of springs ago I was back down south for a few days (it’s a once every sixth week, four day gig to cut hair and catch up with my folks). One particular morning I was sat in the kitchen with mum. It was sunny and Olive, their Springer, lay basking in the open doorway. Dad was probably up on the roof doing whatever it was he did up there. I don’t recall what we were speaking of, but I do remember that the light was really streaming through the window – you know how it can do sometimes – in great, filmic shafts. My mum was waiting on the kettle with her back to me when suddenly this absolutely colossal butterfly, totally black, rose up from somewhere near the fridge and flew (almost in slow motion and with purpose – actually, now I write this it reminds me that I posted something about a similar creature in one of the dream posts recently – darn thing is haunting me! Lol.) across the room straight to the door and out. Olive looked up, quite startled herself. And it was gone. I was so stunned by this vision that my mum said, “What’s up?” I said something about a butterfly, but really I was at quite a loss for words. She said, “Oh, it wasn’t black, was it? Your dad said he saw a black butterfly the other day.”

    And that, Nadine, was that. However, it really was the strangest thing! It has stuck with me quite firmly and I have to say that I took it as some kind of omen. February 2019 dad suffered a series of strokes and has been hospitalised ever since – he won’t be coming home – and, in some weird way, I connect the black butterfly with this.

    Anyway, excuse the ramble! It just reminded me!]

    – so, thank you for noticing!
    Peace x

    PS: I don’t know if you are much of a charity shop shopper, but I never fail to notice the amount of Atwood’s The Blind Assassin in them wherever I go! Lol! They always look half finished. I must admit that that was the one that defeated me, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Nick… what a beautiful gift here. Thank you for this glorious ramble… a true true treasure. Wow! About the butterfly. My aunt had something similar just before she found out she had breast cancer. A ladybug (black and red) alighted on the breast that had the lump. And she felt it had some meaning and she should get checked. That check saved her life… (though not her breast). And very glad we all are, for it… she’s an amazing person.

      There, a tiny ramble of my own.

      I am so, so sorry for your dad. It’s like a living loss… I have seen something similar myself in my own life. Amazing that you and your dad connected in this way. I hope it’s still possible to do more of the same. The mind is an amazing place… as are your dream journals. Sending hugs.


      p.s. I got blindsided by the title of the Blind Assassin, so have to admit never even attempted it. My husband gave me Oryx and Crake for a birthday once though… it’s darker than I normally can handle, but a masterpiece of course, and once begun, un-put-down-able.

      Thanks again for your amazing comment. <33

      Liked by 1 person

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