On Tuesday evening, I had the opportunity to attend a keynote talk by Margaret Atwood as part of the Ottawa Writers Festival. Hundreds of attendees filled the pews of Southminister United Church to hear one of our country’s greatest icons sermonize us from the altar.
I have to admit, I was pretty excited to be there. Yes, I am a fan of Ms. Atwood’s work, but it was more than that. I was anxious for gold nuggets. These are the little bits of advice neatly wrapped up within the contents of a presentations, offering a word or two of wisdom that I can take away with me to help with my own career goals.
For someone like me who is new to the writing and publishing game, having the opportunity to hear Ms. Atwood speak with 50 years experience as a writer was an awe-inspiring opportunity, to say the least.
When she finally took the stage, I could feel that I was about to have a spiritual awakening. Within the first 5-minutes, she sang a gardener’s hymn to honour the fact that the festival was taking place in a church, then she gave a reading from her new novel MaddAddam in which she called one of her characters a 'fucker’. At that moment, I knew Margaret Atwood was awesome.
Over the next hour, Ms. Atwood shared with the audience some insights into her new book, as well as thoughts about her writing process. She was unfailingly honest in her views and her dry humour kept us all laughing and entertained. When her talk was over, it felt like only 5 minutes had passed.
As expected, her talk was full of gold nuggets, a few of which I’ll share with you now.
1) You can be disorganized and still write best-selling books. Margaret Atwood says she's the most disorganized person around, but it's okay to be a disorganized writer as long as you respond to inspiration when it hits by jotting down ideas on scraps of paper and keep them all in a pile or two for easy access (*see note below)
2) Our childhood upbringing will factor into our stories and that’s okay--write what you know. For example, Margaret Atwood always had a fascination with Easter eggs, which is why many of her stories, including the cover design of MaddAddam, feature eggs in them.
3) It’s okay to write in different genres. I’d always heard it’s best to stay in one genre in order to keep your fan base, but Margaret Atwood has had wide and varied career from writing poetry to dystopian fiction, and now she’s even talking about writing a thriller!
4) Use caller I.D. so that you won’t pick up the phone to a telemarketer when you’re writing!
Note: Here’s a photo I took of a diagram I created for my next novel. Now that I've heard Margaret Atwood speak about how disorganized she is and how she’d never use a diagram to plot out her characters, setting, etc., I think it’s kind of funny how serious I was when I made this, thinking this must be what all great authors do. Ha!
Stacey D. Atkinson is the author of the newly released novel Stuck, which she published via her independent company Mirror Image Publishing.