Margaret Atwood’s Creative Process

Question: How do you begin working on a new book?

Margaret Atwood: Okay, where does a book come from?  People have been thinking about that for a long time.  How do you begin?  How do you get into it?  I would say that if you’re not finding this happens somewhat spontaneously, you probably shouldn’t be doing this activity.  I mean, a lot of people say, “I want to be a writer.”  And you say, “Well, what do you want to write?”  And they say, “I don’t know.”  

So for me, I think it’s not a question of sitting around wondering what I’m going to write.  It’s a question of sitting around wondering which of the far-fetched and absurd ideas I’m going to try to tackle.  Sometimes, I think I should be a lot safer and less risk-taking and stick to somebody, or something, a little bit more manageable.  

But those aren’t the things that appeal to me, unfortunately.  I wish I had a formula, I wish I had a way of preceding that would be kind of, you know, this is what Chapter One is always like, and this is what Chapter Two is always like.  But it isn’t.  I just have to plunge into it.  And it’s usually the one... that the voice of sanity and reason is telling me not to write.  It’s usually that one that I end up writing.   

Question:
What is your writing process?

Margaret Atwood: My absolute opening entry is always a handheld object with a point on one end.  So it’s going to be either a pencil or a pen.  And then it is applied to a flat substance of some kind, which is usually a piece of paper, but could be a piece of cardboard if one’s stuck without the paper.  Or even my arm when things get really bad.  

I think that people should carry notebooks with them at all times just for those moments because there’s nothing worse than having that moment and finding that you’re unable to set it down except with a knife on your leg or something.  You actually don’t want to do that.  So I recommend the paper and the pencil.  Or if you must, some other stylus writing device that provides a permanent record of what you just set down.  

When we get a bit further into it, I have to say that I do love the sticky notes.  I like them.  I like the bedside notebook for those thoughts that are so important at about 12:00 midnight when you wake up in the morning and can’t figure out why you thought that.  So all of that goes on.  

And then, do you know what a rolling barrage is?  A rolling barrage comes from World War I and it’s when you run forward and then crouch down and your side fires over your head.  Then you stand up, run forward and your side fires over your head again.  If you get the timing wrong, of course, it’s unfortunate.  

So, I start typing on a computer now.  Computers were very helpful for me because I was always a bad typist and a bad speller.  I start typing up my handwritten text while I’m still writing it at the back.  So the rolling barrage of typing goes on while the writing creeps forward along the ground, if you will.

Question:
How long does it normally take you to write a novel?


Margaret Atwood: First of all, there is no normal time that it takes me to write a novel.  It very much depends on the length of the novel and how well or badly it’s going.  And some of them have taken quite a long time because I have started off on the wrong foot, I have gotten quite far down the path and realized I have to change everything, go back to the beginning, start again, and that can happens several times.  So that, of course, takes up time.  

Some of them are quite quick because you’ve started off the right way and you can just roll with it.  I don’t know if you’ve every done any white water canoeing, or surfing.  But that can be an exhilarating experience, and that’s when the wave is going with you.  With white water canoeing, you actually want to go faster than the water and with surfing; you want to go with it.  So when that happens, it’s really terrific.  But when that doesn’t happen, it could be very frustrating and could take up a lot of time.

Question:
Are you a surfer?

Margaret Atwood: Am I a surfer?   Not anymore dear.  Not anymore.  I would break my neck. 

Recorded 10/21/2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

For the author, it’s not a question of sitting around and wondering what to write; it’s a question of deciding which of the "far-fetched and absurd" ideas she’s going to try to tackle.

Psychogenic shivers: Why we get the chills when we aren’t cold

Humans are particularly prone to shiver when a group does or thinks the same thing at the same time.

Paramount/Getty Images
Mind & Brain

A few years ago, I proposed that the feeling of cold in one's spine, while for example watching a film or listening to music, corresponds to an event when our vital need for cognition is satisfied.

Keep reading Show less

Colors evoke similar emotions around the world, survey finds

Certain colors are globally linked to certain feelings, the study reveals.

Credit: Liudmila Dutko on Adobe Stock
Mind & Brain
  • Color psychology is often used in marketing to alter your perception of products and services.
  • Various studies and experiments across multiple years have given us more insight into the link between personality and color.
  • The results of a new study spanning 6 continents (30 nations) shows universal correlations between colors and emotions around the globe.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Image source: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
  • The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
  • The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
Keep reading Show less

COVID-19 may cause 'significant' cognitive deficits, study says

A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause neurological damage in some patients.

Feydzhet Shabanov via AdobeStock
Coronavirus
  • The study examined data of cognitive performance collected from more than 84,000 people, more than 12,000 of whom had likely contracted and recovered from COVID-19.
  • Compared to healthy participants, the COVID-19 group performed significantly worse on cognitive tests.
  • Mental decline in the worst cases were the equivalent of ageing by 10 years.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast