A Writer on Writing

Margaret Atwood’s A Writer on Writing: Negotiating with the Dead

Continuing my pursuit of books on writing written by novelists, this month I read Margaret Atwood’s A Writer on Writing: Negotiating with the Dead. Atwood’s book is more about being a writer than about the act of writing. It is a thoughtful and intriguing summary of her thoughts on the matter.

In the first chapter, “Orientation: Who do You Think You Are?”, she examines her youth, her adolescence, and her young adulthood for clues about her personal development as a writer. She notes that anyone can write but that being a Writer leans toward the use of a capital W to indicate the significance of the act.

Her first realization that she wanted to become a Writer occurred when she was sixteen years old. She created a poem in her head, then wrote it down, and experienced a jolt of “electricity.” She explained (much to her parents’ dismay) that her  “… transition from not being a writer to being one was instantaneous….”

In the second chapter, “Duplicity: The Jekyll Hand, the Hyde Hand, and the Slippery Double,” Atwood focuses on the duplicity of doubleness involved in being a writer. She begins by explaining that growing up without television, her world was full of comic books with doubled heroes, such as Superman who was really Clark Kent. She sees the person who is a writer as the “cozy sort of person” who “walks the dog every morning” yet dies, and the writer as the “more shadowy and altogether more equivocal one” who commits the act of writing and whose works live on.

The title of Chapter 3 is “Dedication: The Great God Pen.” In this chapter, Atwood begins by discussing the evolution of humans’ viewpoint on images and the word from one of religious significance to that of productivity for the market, or as she expresses it, “the dichotomy between art and money.”

In Chapter 4, Atwood address “Temptation: Prospero, the Wizard of Oz, Mephisto & Co.” This discussion of the writer as the waver of wands, puller of strings, and signer of the book of the devil raises for Atwood the question of whether or not a writer should feel guilty about the work produced. The chapter is a cogent discussion of whether the writer’s work has consequences in the real world. This chapter interested me because I have often wondered if Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has had a negative influence on current society.

In Chapter 5, entitled “Communion: Nobody to Nobody,” Atwood considers the relationship between the writer, the book, and the reader. She sees the relationship as a V, with the book at the bottom of the V and the writer and reader—unconnected—at the top. She points out that the writer and the reader only communicate through the page.

Chapter 6 reprises the subtitle of the volume: “Descent: Negotiation with the Dead.” In this concluding chapter, Atwood explains her hypothesis that all writing is “motivated, deep down, by a fear of and a kind of fascination with mortality.” She postulates that the very nature of writing is that it “survives its own performance.”

As I read Margaret Atwood’s lucid self-questioning of the writer and writing, I found it spellbinding. Her discussion made me think about and question my own reasons for writing, my own choice of topics, and my own goals and expectations. This is a book I think every writer (whether he or she views the word with a small or capital W) should have on their shelf and read very carefully.

My Writing Goals for 2023

Continue to work on my poetry.

A line editor went through the manuscript of my in-process poetry book and pronounced it “gorgeous.”

Submit poetry to contests/awards:

I am submitting my finished manuscript to a poetry book contest this month.

Finish, request feedback, and send my first novel out for review:

This month I worked on the organization.

Continue to work on my other novels:

I added sections based on the collected photos from the era of this novel featuring vehicles, clothing, and settings. 

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers AllianceThis month I presented a session on E. Ethelbert Miller for the BWA Poetry Circle. I provided feedback on a poem to a BWA member. I also attended our session on Writers Who Read with Gary Alan McBride in which we analyzed Dan Fesperman’s Winter Work, a spy novel about East Germany.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I read the newsletter. I also zoomed in to a DWPC special event in which DWPC member Ruth J. Abram, a friend and colleague of Letty Cottin Pogrebin and a renowned historic preservationist, interviewed Letty about her recently published book: Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy. Letty’s responses were enlightening.

Women Writing the WestOur critique group met and provided feedback on our 2000-word drafts for each of the four members.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers I read the newsletter and listened to a podcast in which Mark Stevens interviewed Jasmine Cresswell, author of seventy novels and longtime member of RMFW. She discussed the shift publishers made to romance novels which provided opportunities for more women writers in the late 1970s and 1980s. She also mentioned how participating in the RMFW conferences fulfilled the function of connecting with other writers, being in a well-managed critique group, and developing long-lasting friendships.

This year I plan to monetize my blog:

This month, I explored how to set up charges on my blog. 

Document my writing progress through my blog and post it on the seventh day of each month, one blog per month 2023:

Today is the seventh day of March. I am posting my third blog for 2023. February was a difficult month in the USA given the extreme weather conditions across the nation. This month I have avoided driving and profited from time spent indoors writing and reading.

March 7th in History

On March 7, 1965, what came to be known as Bloody Sunday, occurred when police attacked civil rights marchers on a bridge in Selma, Alabama. The injuries suffered by protestors shifted the American public’s support of the Civil Rights movement in a positive direction.

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