“A word after a word after a word is power.” Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood’s chilling classic fantasy, Handmaid’s Tale, is making its TV debut. This inspired me to share a print interview published in 1990 in which the best-selling author offered some timeless writing tips:
Start small: One route for beginning writers: submit to literary presses and small magazines that publish short stories and poetry. “I would recommend someone doing their first writing get to know that literary magazine world. Figure out what literary magazines publish what you want to write. Submit there first. When you have some of those publications to your credit, other people are more likely to get to see your work and an agent might look for you.”
Let ideas come to you: “One never knows where writers get ideas. They just come and there is always more information that you can deal with. Getting the ideas is not the problem, getting the time to sit and work out the ideas is the problem….”
Begin with a question: “I think a lot of novels begin as questions. For example, Handmaid’s Tale began as a question. Really, a couple of questions: “If you were going to take over the United States, how would you do it?” “If women’s place isn’t the home, how are you going to get them back into the home now that they are not there?” “How are you going to make them go back when they don’t want to?”
Expect to make mistakes: “When I was 16, and wanted to be a writer, one of the first things I did was go out and buy one of those Writer’s Market books. But the result was quite funny because I was quite naïve. I thought, “Well, if I am going to be a writer, I have to support myself with some kind of writing.” So I looked to see what (kind of writing) paid money. And what paid the most money was True Confessions. So I went out and bought some True Confessions magazines.
I thought, “Well these plots are pretty easy, I can write this.” But, in fact, it was a lot harder than I thought. The vocabulary was very specialized.”
Be prepared to gamble: “… writing is a gambler’s profession. There is no guarantee of anything. You can put in a lot of time, a lot of effort, invest a great deal of emotional energy, and nothing may come out of it. There are no guarantees. So, unless one is fairly committed and willing to make that investment, don’t do it.”
Keep reading: “Read what you want to write: What you read is as important as what you write.”
Great advice from a fabled author. Write on!