Margaret Atwood on Writers’ Childhoods and Getting Published

How do writers’ childhoods affect writing and getting published? What is the writing process? Here are bestselling author Margaret Atwood’s writing quotations and advice, from Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing.

“All writers must go from now to once a upon a time; all must go from here to there; all must descend to where the stories are kept; all must take care not to be captured and held immobile by the past,” writes Atwood in Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing.

It takes effort to break free of the past, especially if you had a rough or cushy childhood. Can you shake off your fears, insecurities, hang-ups? Maybe not…but you can learn to use them as a springboard into the writing career of your dreams!

Margaret Atwood’s Best Writing Quotations From A Writer on Writing

Here are a few quotations from Margaret Atwood’s book on writing, beginning with feeling lost as a writer (the writing process) and ending with how “common” writers’ childhoods and pasts are…

Feeling Lost as a Writer

“Obstruction, obscurity, emptiness, disorientation, twilight, blackout, often combined with a struggle or path or journey – an inability to see one’s way forward, but a feeling that there was a way forward, and that the act of going forward would eventually bring about the conditions for vision – those were the common elements in many descriptions of the process of writing,” writes Atwood.

  • You, as a freelancer, novelist, or poet, are not alone if you feel lost in your writing. Published authors describe the writing process as wading through deep rivers, being in empty rooms, grappling with unseen entities, and walking through labyrinths. There is no one right road to being a freelance writer or bestselling author…there’s only your own experience and the knowledge that all writers wrestle with fears,  disorientation and emptiness.

On Writers’ Childhoods

“The childhoods of writers are thought to have something to do with their vocation, but when you look at these childhoods they are in fact very different,” writes Atwood in Negotiating With the Dead. “What they often contain, however, are books and solitude, and my own childhood was right on track.”

  • How does your childhood shape your life as a freelance writer or novelist? Think about it…because I’m willing to bet that the way you handle rejection, perseverance, motivation, discipline, success, and other writing challenges is affected in some way by your childhood. For instance, my is to earn several thousand dollars per month from my Quips and Tips blogs. For me, writing success is defined by my salary, not my words per day or number of books published. How does your childhood affect your writing career?

On Becoming a Writer

“My transition from not being a writer to being one was instantaneous, like the change from docile bank clerk to fanged monster in “B” movies,” writes Atwood.

  • At what point do you call yourself a “real” writer? It’s important to figure that out for yourself – and everyone has a different definition of a “real” writer. The sooner you pinpoint what that means to you, the sooner you can get busy getting published!

On Getting Published for the First Time

“When I received my first literary-magazine acceptance letter, I walked around in a daze for a week. It was a shock, really,” writes Atwood in Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing. “All that effort directed toward what even I had, in my heart of hearts, considered to be an unreal goal, and it was not unreal after all. Everything was about to come true, as in some vaguely threatening dream or wish-granting fairy-tale.

  • If you’ve been published, you know what writer’s high is! Remember that when you’re struggling to earn a living as a freelance writer, or receiving rejection after rejection from your book proposal. If you haven’t been published, keep working towards your writing goals. Atwood considered her goals unrealistic and unachievable – and yet she exceeded her writing expectations. You can do the same…with “all that effort” that Atwood mentioned.

On Being a Writer

“As for writing, most people secretly believe they themselves have a book in them, which they would write if they could only find the time. And there’s some truth to this notion. A lot of people do have a book in them – that is, they have had an experience that other people might want to read about. But this is not the same as “being a writer,”” writes Atwood. “Or, to put it in a more sinister way: everyone can dig a hole in a cemetery, but not everyone is a grave-digger. The latter takes a good deal more stamina and persistence.”

  • When you’re deciding what it means to you to be a “real” writer, consider Atwood’s distinction between playing with words versus zeroing in on your writing goals until – in your own estimation – you’ve made it. Stop wanting to be a writer, and start being a writer.

On How “Common” Writers Are

“…when I look back over the life I led until I began writing, I can find nothing in it that would account for the bizarre direction I took; or nothing than couldn’t be found in the lives of many people who did not become writers,” writes Atwood in Negotiating With the Dead.

  • You don’t have to be special in any way to be a writer, fellow scribes. You need only be determined, fearless, and hopeful.

Did any of Margaret Atwood’s quotations on writing stand out to you? Comments welcome below…

And here’s another perspective of writing, this time from a variety of successful published authors: Writers Dreams – How Do Dreams Affect the Writing Process?

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2 thoughts on “Margaret Atwood on Writers’ Childhoods and Getting Published”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Uppal,

    Thanks for your comments – I always like hearing from you 🙂 My favorite writing tip from Margaret Atwood is not to be held immobile by the past. It’s so true that our past experiences can hold us back, paralyze us. Even our childhoods affect who we are and what we write today!

    Go well,

  2. Hi Laurie,thanks for presenting a subtle and apt blend of your own and Margret Atwood’s writing advice.No denying that one’s childhood is a reservoir of untold stories which keep on visiting and poking your consciousness so many times.These peek-a-boo mainly when you are alone,while taking a walk or are in the midst of fixing a dinner or are having a bath. A momentary spark does get ignited but fails to end up into a creative effort.

    I like Atwood’s quip that to be successful one should be prepared to sweat like a grave digger and not be satisfied with a half hearted effort.I think what she means is that simply desiring is in no way akin to envisioning.

    Undoubtedly your article comes out to be motivational, encouraging and a confidence builder.Thanks for the wake up call!!!