S2/E16: Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing (MasterClass)
Updated: Aug 2, 2021
Out of all the books and classes I’ve taken so far in this project, I’ve come to have a special place in my heart for these MasterClasses. It would be so easy for these classes to simply trade on the famous instructors’ names and not provide valuable content. But every single one has been a quality experience for me so far. I have yet to detect a single writer “phoning it in.”
So in case Margaret Atwood has somehow escaped your radar (okay, but seriously, HOW?!), here’s an overview of her contributions to our field since 1969:
21 novels, including The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and The Testaments
8 short story collections
8 children’s books
3 graphic novels
24 books of poetry
10 nonfiction books (i.e. essay collections)
5 TV and radio scripts and plays
5 fiction and poetry collections (as an editor), including The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English (1995) and The Best American Short Stories (1989)
Her website is probably the most impressive and varied author site I’ve ever seen. She’s won lots of awards (e.g. the Booker Prize, the Giller Prize – Canada, and the Premio Mondello – Italy) and does lots of appearances, which you can learn about there. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are links to her Wattpad works (including some she’s done with Naomi Alderman, author of the hit novel, The Power). Seriously, strongly consider taking a minute to “get to know” Margaret Atwood through her website. Here’s just one (incredibly) delightful thing I found there:
Atwood’s Master Class focuses on her fiction writing chops, though she clearly could’ve chosen from a variety of MasterClass topics. The usual caveat on this incredible class applies: this in no way a summary of what this class includes. It’s simply…
1. Completion Fear. Sometimes there is significant fear around finishing. All the doubts arise — chief among them, What if it isn’t any good?! But it’s always better to barrel through and finish. Then you can start back through and finish. You can always revise. bring your new, your “re” vision to the process. It will bring fresh parts/aspects of the book you haven’t gotten in on the first pass.
2. Preferred First Readers. In general, not your spouse, best friend, or mom. Not someone in the publishing business. Look for readers of books like yours. A dedicated reader. And the only real question you should ask is this: “Is it alive or is it dead?” Everything else can be fixed, according to Atwood. She goes on to say that good readers will help you discover what needs to be fixed. Another good (bonus) question: “How quickly did you read it?” If they say they couldn’t put it down, then you’re probably most of the way there. At the base of everything, according to Atwood is the main rule of all fiction: Hold the reader’s attention.
3. Fine-tuning tips: Read your book out loud. You’ll start to hear things that you would’ve missed otherwise. Read with a ruler, going line-by-line to see what’s actually on the page. Use your digital copy, even if you like to handwrite the first draft, create and use a digital copy so that you can do things like check to see how many times you’ve used specific words or punctuation marks. After this stage, you also should show your work to an eagle eye, “counter type.” Atwood puts it past a copyeditor who’s great about keeping track of things like how many widgets someone uses or what day of the week it is or how long something takes. She counts on them to know her honest in terms of consistency. And then, obviously, you need a proofreader.
*Know that you may write faster the closer you get to the end of the book. And/or you may be inclined to write for longer sessions. Use that information as a comfort at the beginning (and when you’re planning things out). BUT also be aware that the drive to push to the ending can lead to you writing too fast past a base level of details and nuance that you want to keep.
“You’re always dealing with readers. You’re always dealing with what you think they may already expect and how much of that expectation you’re going to fulfill is really going to depend on you.” Margaret Atwood in her MasterClass, “Closed vs. Open Endings”
I liked this so much that if I ever cancel my MasterPass, I may have to buy this class just to have the opportunity to hang out with Margaret Atwood from time to time. She’s just so quirky and brilliant and herself. I would 100% recommend this class to any fiction writer, but if you write speculative fiction of any kind, I think you should strongly consider it.
Individual classes cost $90 each and you have access to them forever.
The all-access pass costs $180 annually ($15/month) and gives you access to every class. And right now, they’re having a buy one, give one free, which is an awesome deal!! Other categories of classes besides writing include classes on film/television, music/entertainment, culinary arts, business/politics/society, sports/games, design/photography/fashion, science/technology, and lifestyle. It’s important to note that you don’t get access to them once you cancel your subscription.
I hope this was helpful to you! Next week I’ll be applying this same approach to my Rookie Book Report on How to Break the Habit of Self-Doubt and Build Real Confidence by Mel Robbins, available on the CreativeLive platform.
Until then. . .
Happy writing, people!
P.S. In other Dair news:
Fellow author Robin Knabel and I recently posted a new episode of our new podcast, Unsettling Reads. Come check out our spoiler-free review of Alan Baxter’s excellent horror short story collection, Served Cold and browse our other reviews of books from the crime, fantasy, horror, literary, mystery, sci-fi, suspense, and thriller genres. You can find it all at www.UnsettlingReads.com.
To find out what I’ve been working on, fiction-wise, visit www.HDairBrown.com. Sign up for the email list, and I’ll send you a free story every month. Just one email a month. I promise not to inundate you. I hate a pesky emailer!
Finally, to help you keep track of both your writing goals and your time, visit TheRookieWriter.net and sign up for the email list to get a free undated quarterly version of The Rookie Writer Playbook (a planner/organizer just for writers) to try out. And, of course, The Rookie Writer Etsy shop has full annual, dated Writing Planners available, along with a few other tools and fun swag for writers.