- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Margaret Atwood on Writing, Language, Literature, and More

 

Happy birthday, Margaret Atwood! 82, today! Here are some quotes from the author:

 

“A word after a word after a word is power.”

 

“I walk around in a state of wonder every day. Everything’s exciting.”

 

“If you’re waiting for the perfect moment, you’ll never write a thing because it will never arrive. I have no routine. I have no foolproof anything. There’s nothing foolproof.”

 

“Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”

 

“There is something compelling about the blank page that beckons you in to write something on it—it must be filled.”

 

“By telling you anything at all I’m at least believing in you, I believe you’re there, I believe you into being. Because I’m telling you this story I will your existence. I tell, therefore you are.”

 

“Tell, rather than write, because I have nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden. But if it’s a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone. You don’t tell a story only to yourself. There’s always someone else.
Even when there is no one.”

 

“Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space.”

 

“War is what happens when language fails.”

 

“The fabric of democracy is always fragile everywhere because it depends on the will of citizens to protect it, and when they become scared, when it becomes dangerous for them to defend it, it can go very quickly.”

 

“I would rather dance as a ballerina, though faultily, than as a flawless clown.”

 

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

 

“I’m working on my own life story. I don’t mean I’m putting it together; no, I’m taking it apart.”

 

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

 

“As all historians know, the past is a great darkness, and filled with echoes. Voices may reach us from it; but what they say to us is imbued with the obscurity of the matrix out of which they come; and, try as we may, we cannot always decipher them precisely in the clearer light of our own day.”

 

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes. [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

 

“There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

 

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

 

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

 

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here.’ Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.”

 

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

 

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

 

“Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”

 

“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.”

 

“The small details of life often hide a great significance.”

 

“Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.”

 

“Knowing too much about other people puts you in their power, they have a claim on you, you are forced to understand their reasons for doing things and then you are weakened.”

 

“There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”

 

“Is that what writing amounts to? The voice your ghost would have, if it had a voice?”

 

“After everything that’s happened, how can the world still be so beautiful? Because it is.”

 

“Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.”

 

“There’s something to be said for hunger: at least it lets you know you’re still alive.”

 

“Amazing how the heart clutches at anything familiar, whimpering Mine! Mine!”

 

“All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is. Anything else is sentimental drivel. Think about it. There’s escaping from the wolves, fighting the wolves, capturing the wolves, taming the wolves. Being thrown to the wolves, or throwing others to the wolves so the wolves will eat them instead of you. Running with the wolf pack. Turning into a wolf. Best of all, turning into the head wolf. No other decent stories exist.”

 

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”

 

“The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.”

 

“It’s a feature of our age that if you write a work of fiction, everyone assumes that the people and events in it are disguised biography—but if you write your biography, it’s equally assumed you’re lying your head off.”

 

“I never have [suffered writer’s block], although I’ve had books that didn’t work out. I had to stop writing them. I just abandoned them. It was depressing, but it wasn’t the end of the world. When it really isn’t working, and you’ve been bashing yourself against the wall, it’s kind of a relief. I mean, sometimes you bash yourself against the wall and you get through it. But sometimes the wall is just a wall. There’s nothing to be done but go somewhere else.”

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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