Margaret Atwood Writing Quotes

Margaret Atwood is an influential writer that has entertained many with her writings. Her thoughts on writing are insightful and informative. Her quotes on writing touch on various important issues to writers including:

  • What it takes to become a writer
  • How to write well
  • Margaret Atwood’s writing philosophy

If you want to learn how to write from Margaret Atwood, check out her writing course on MasterClass. Learn more about MasterClass courses here.

If you want to learn more about Margaret Atwood, check out her quick biography.

Quotes on the Importance of Writing

1. Art is an evolved adaptation that became part of our make-up because it gave us a survival edge. If you have the ability to understand a story and I tell you about Uncle George being eaten by a crocodile right over there in that river, you learn from that – you don’t have to go there and go swimming and test it out and get eaten. – High Profiles Interview, 2010

2. Novels are not how-to books; they will not show you how to conduct a successful life, although some of them may be read this way. – NESA Speech, 2017

3. It’s very enjoyable for me to write. It’s a pleasure. I bet you’ve never heard a writer say that before. – Southwest Review, 1982

Quotes on Becoming a Writer

4. 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 that is not the same as ‘being a writer.’ – Negotiating with the Dead, 2003

5. Anyone literate can take an implement in hand and make marks on a flat surface. Being a writer, however, seems to be a socially acknowledged role, and one that carries some sort of weight or impressive significance. – Negotiating with the Dead, 2003

6. 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. It is also, because of the nature of the activity, a deeply symbolic role. As a grave-digger, you are not just a person who excavates. You carry upon your shoulders the weight of other people’s projections, of their fears and fantasies and anxieties and superstitions.” – Negotiating with the Dead, 2003

7. Writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out to the light. – Negotiating with the Dead, 2003

8. There’s an epigram tacked to my office bulletin board, pinched from a magazine — “Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâté. – Negotiating with the Dead, 2003

Quotes on Making a Living by Writing

9. What I say to young people is that there are four kinds of books: good books that make money, good books that don’t make money, bad books that make money and bad books that don’t make money. Of those four, you can live with three of them. – AARP Interview, 2020

10. I went into English Literature at university, having decided in a cynical manner that I could always teach to support my writing habit. – Waterstone’s Poetry Lecture, 1995

Quotes on How to Write Well

11. What you have to do is to make your writing the best it can be, and then you just have to have faith. You just have to throw your writing away and assume that whoever picks it up will be the right person. – UC Davis Interview, 1993

12. To me an effective writer is one who can make what he or she is writing about understandable and moving to someone who has never been there. All good writing has that kind of transcendence. – Southwest Review, 1982

13. Any story you tell must have a conflict of some sort, and it must have suspense. – NESA Speech, 2017

14. Generally, readers don’t like being preached to, not because they have no moral sense but because they like to make up their own minds, and if you don’t supply the moral for them, they will put it in themselves. – High Profiles Interview, 2010

15. That’s one of the things that happens in novels—the person learns something or they become something more, or they become something less, but they always change. They’re not the same at the end as they were at the beginning. If you did write a novel in which they were exactly the same, you would probably find it either terribly experimental or terribly boring or possibly both. – Southwest Review, 1982

Quotes on Creativity and Getting Ideas for Writing

16. Everybody has it [creativity] because it’s a human thing. It’s just that people employ their creativity in different ways. Some people write. Some people knit. Some people make music. But it all has to do with our human capacity for invention and for seeing things from different points of view. – AARP Interview, 2020

17. When I’m writing a novel, what comes first is an image, scene, or voice. Something fairly small. Sometimes that seed is contained in a poem I’ve already written. The structure or design gets worked out in the course of the writing. I couldn’t write the other way round, with structure first. – The Paris Review, 1990

18. It’s the same blank page with nothing on it. Everybody has that page, and everybody has that moment of having to begin. – AARP Interview, 2020

19. I start out with an image and the book develops around it. Yes, I always start with images, and the tone of the book comes later. – Southwest Review, 1982

20. Being born at the beginning of the war gave me a substratum of anxiety and dread to draw on, which is very useful to a poet. – Waterstone’s Poetry Lecture, 1995

Quotes on Reading

21. I was lucky enough to have a mother who read out loud, but she couldn’t be doing it all the time and you had to amuse yourself with something or other when it rained.  I became a reading addict, and have remained so ever since. – Waterstone’s Poetry Lecture, 1995

22. In the bush there were no theatres, movies, parades, or very functional radios; there were also not many other people. The result was that I learned to read early – Waterstone’s Poetry Lecture, 1995

23. Like cigarette addicts who will smoke mattress stuffing if all else fails, I will read anything. As a child I read a good many things I shouldn’t have, but this also is useful for poetry. – Waterstone’s Poetry Lecture, 1995

Quotes on Poetry

24. Plato said that poets should be excluded from the ideal republic because they are such liars. I am a poet, and I affirm that this is true. – Waterstone’s Poetry Lecture, 1995

25. I became a poet at the age of sixteen. I did not intend to do it. It was not my fault. – Waterstone’s Poetry Lecture, 1995

26. When I was sixteen, it was simple. Poetry existed; therefore it could be written; and nobody had told me — yet — the many, many reasons why it could not be written by me. – Waterstone’s Poetry Lecture, 1995

Quotes on Margaret Atwood’s Writing Process and Routine

27. I’m inherently lazy, but I’m also inherently puritanical. So it’s frequently a contest between a laziness which says, “Goof off,” and a puritanism which says, “You must put in five hours of work.” – UC Davis Interview, 1993

28. When I was younger I spent the day having anxiety attacks, sharpening pencils, getting up, sitting down, filling coffee cups, going to lunch, phoning friends – all the things you do to avoid writing. – UC Davis Interview, 1993

29. Once I had a young family, I couldn’t write until two in the morning anymore, so I quickly cut the anxiety attacks down to about five minutes of screaming paranoia and moved my writing to an earlier and less frantic point in the day. By now I’ve grown used to earlier starts. – UC Davis Interview, 1993

30. I usually write a lot. A book of poems that you’ll actually read is usually distilled from at least twice that much writing. It only becomes apparent to me toward the end of the process what the form is that’s going to emerge from it. – Southwest Review, 1982

31. I try to get through the first draft quite quickly, and then I see what it is, and then I work on it and revise it. I’m not one of those people who puts it down on filing cards first and then writes out a filing card a day.  – Southwest Review, 1982

Quotes on Margaret Atwood’s Writing Style and Philosophy

32. My ideal reader has aged somewhat. I don’t ascribe gender to this reader, although a lot of people do. I assume that the responses to some of the things I put on the page will be different according to who’s reading it, but you really can’t concern yourself a whole bunch with that or you start to get paranoid. – UC Davis Interview, 1993

33. I’m not sure who exactly I write for. All I am sure of is that people have always told stories and passed them on.  – UC Davis Interview, 1993

34. I don’t think you transcend region, any more than a plant transcends earth. I think that you come out of something, and you can then branch out in all kinds of different directions, but that doesn’t mean cutting yourself off from your roots and from your earth. – Southwest Review, 1982

35. I’m not a theoretical writer; I’m not a programmatic writer in any way. I don’t set out little things for myself that I’m going to do next. – Southwest Review, 1982

36. If you think of a book as an experience, as almost the equivalent of having the experience, you’re going to feel some sense of responsibility as to what kinds of experiences you’re going to put people through. – Southwest Review, 1982

37. I don’t write pretty books, I know that. They aren’t pretty. – Southwest Review, 1982

38. I’m not interested in having a legacy, because you can’t control it. If you follow the posthumous careers of writers, they can go many different ways. You can be very popular and famous in your lifetime and then completely forgotten 50 years later. Or you can be somewhat obscure during your lifetime and then be very famous afterward. Or you can be neither. – AARP Interview, 2020

39. Art has to do partly with the violation of conventions. Which means, I suppose, that there have to be conventions to violate: a convention is violated, new conventions are set up, master-pieces are produced, and then conventions are violated all over again. – UC Davis Interview, 1993

40. Once you start to formulate a definition of what writing should be, someone comes along and contradicts you.  – UC Davis Interview, 1993

41. I write for readers. I write for people who like to read books. – Southwest Review, 1982

42. I’m translated into fourteen languages by now, and I’m sure that some of the people reading those books don’t get all the references in them, because they’re not familiar with the setting. I don’t get all the references in William Faulkner either. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the books, or can’t understand them. You can pick up a lot of things from context. – Southwest Review, 1982

Further Reading

If you loved the quotes by Margaret Atwood, check out the huge collection of writing quotes below. The collection features the best quotes by some of the most famous writers such as J.K Rowling, Dan Brown, James Patterson, and Maya Angelou among many more.

The quotes are full of valuable advice for any aspiring writer.

If you are struggling to create a business around your writing and need some encouragement, read the quotes below.

  • Sources Cited for Margaret Atwood’s Quotes

AARP Interview (2020) Margaret Atwood Reflects on the Joys and Perils of Late-Life Creativity.

High Profiles Interview (2010) Natural Lore.

Negotiating with the Dead (2003) Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing [On Amazon]

NESA Speech (2017) Spotty-Handed Villainesses [PDF]

Southwest Review (1982) Using What You’re Given.

The Paris Review (1990) Margaret Atwood, The Art of Fiction No. 121

UC Davis Interview (1993) The Ancient Mariner Experience [PDF].

Waterstone’s Poetry Lecture (1995) Writing Philosophy