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“A word after a word after a word is power.”
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
More than 30 years after her classic dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was published, a best-selling sequel has poured from Margaret’s prickly pen. The Testaments, which tied for the Booker Prize, is proof positive that creativity knows no age or boundaries. At 80, Atwood is still sharp and snappy, as these comments show:*
On writing a sequel: “Have you ever been swimming in a very cold lake? You put your foot in, you take your foot out. You think, ‘Am I really gonna do this?’ And then you have to run in screaming.”
On her writing process — and everyone else’s: “Here’s a deep dark secret that I’m going to share with you: Everybody who goes on about their writing process is probably just making it up, because you can’t actually remember that much about how you wrote things. Unless you’re a much better organized person than I am. [My process] is skiing down a hill. When you’re skiing down a hill, you’re trying not to fall over — and you’re making a lot of unconscious decisions automatically. You’re not thinking about them because if you do, you will fall over.”
On what the author’s role is: It’s kind of not my business to decide the legacy of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s the author’s job to make the book in the best way they can. If you don’t want people interpreting it, don’t publish it. Because once you publish it, it’s not yours anymore.”
Love what Atwood says about writing process – it’s so true, isn’t it? We’re all just winging it, aren’t we – just flying down a hill and trying to stay upright and not lose our balance. Ask ten people about their writing process and you’ll get ten different answers. And most of what they tell you will not be very useful, but it’s their own particular way of unconsciously adjusting as they careen down that hill. Wonderful!
I’t so refreshing, isn’t it, when a well-established writer just comes right out and simply says, “Hey, I don’t really know much about how I do what I do – and neither does anyone else.” It mystifies and demystifies at the same time – quite a hat trick!
I also love Atwood’s comment that once you’ve published something, “it’s not yours anymore.” Once you’ve published, everyone gets to interpret and play with your words. I think that’s one reason some people hesitate to put their work out into the world – they want to keep it close, keep it safe, keep it wholly as they’ve imagined it. But once it’s out there, it’s not yours, it’s everyones.
How encouraging all this is. Still going strong in her 80s. Bravo, Margaret – write on!
* From an interview conducted by Seija Rankin, Entertainment (January, 2020).