As a fiction writer, it is easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged by the amount of competition that is circling. I myself am undertaking an MA in the study of Creative Writing, yet I am unpublished. Not everyone needs to study to be a published writer. However, understanding the process of how successful authors have become published is a great first step in becoming accustomed to the process a writer goes through to achieve the careers they have. This knowledge alongside perseverance and many hours of editing will likely lead to a place you want to be.
A great example is the author Margaret Atwood. Writing from the early age of 6, deciding to become a professional writer at 16, Atwood began her undertaking with an educational route, leading up to an unfinished doctoral study. Reading her poems at coffee shops, and then self-publishing her works within literary magazines, Atwood first published a book of poetry, entitled Double Persephone, published as a pamphlet by Hawkshead Press in 1961. Continuing to write, Atwood became an English lecturer at several universities over the next few years, whilst continuing to write and publish poems. By 1966, Contact Press published her first full-length collection of poems; The Circle Game, which won a prestigious award for poetry enabling Atwood to publish her first novel and The Edible Woman (1969), working alongside a small publishing house.
Any writer would hope this would be the big break; things would get easier. However, this is a common misconception. The real work begins here. 'A writer may not write their best work until their second or third novel,' says, Alexa von Hirschberg - Senior Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury Publishing - in an interview with Sally O’Reilly (The Open University, 2019). A writer needs to continue, writing, editing, forging material over months or years. Atwood herself became unwell, developing spinal neuritis during the unrelenting exhaustion of writing during the 1960s.
Atwood followed up with interviews and articles whilst, over the next decade continuing to teach and write. Throughout this period, her style became attuned to feminism, politics and speculative fiction as she published six poetry collections. By the 1980s Atwood’s reputation was established, publishing several novels that would include the notorious, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), winning awards and a nominated finalist for the Man Booker Prize. It was not until Atwood’s tenth novel that she won the Man Booker Prize and the Hammett Prize for her critically acclaimed novel The Blind Assassin (2000). Forty-nine years succeeding the publication of her first novel, Atwood publishes The Testaments (2019), a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), and joint-wins the 2019 Man Booker Prize.
Currently on tour to celebrate the release of her most recent novel The Testaments (2019), Atwood is the epitome of a dedicated writer. Over a fifty-year career, she has published fifteen poetry works, seventeen novels, ten non-fiction, eight short fiction collections, eight children's books, two graphic novels, and several small press editions in poetry and fiction. Atwood has won copious awards and honours, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Franz Kafka Prize, Governor General's Award, Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics and PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Awards.
When we think of ourselves as writers, we seldom imagine the versatility needed to become what we wish. Yet, Margaret Atwood is an author, a poet, a critic, an inventor, a teacher and an activist. This multitudinous career path has in no way watered down or diminished her readership. When writing, It is good to be present, to be in the moment. Nevertheless, I also encourage writers to spend time reflecting; What message is your writing style communicating to the world? For me, it is essential to have a voice that speaks for the unspoken, to fill the void where diversity lacks.
Throughout her career, Atwood has developed her style of writing into something that is still relevant and worth discussing today; a trait worth aspiring to. Of course, there are other equally important components of getting published. What happens once you sign a publishing contract? What happens if you go the route of self-publishing? All equally important topics. The most important thing to take away is to never to stop challenging yourself as a writer. Never stop reading and writing. Hone your skills, develop your style and throw your voice out into the world to be heard.
• Atwood, M. (1961) Double Persephone, Canada, Self-Published.
• Atwood, M. (2000) The Blind Assassin, Canada, McClelland and Stewart Limited.
• Atwood, M. (1964) The Circle Game, Canada, Contact Press.
• Atwood, M. (1969) The Edible Woman, Canada, McClelland and Stewart Limited.
• Atwood, M. (1985) The Handmaid’s Tale, Canada, McClelland and Stewart Limited.
• Atwood, M. (2019) The Testaments, United Kingdom, Chatto & Windus.
• Atwood, M. (2020) ‘Welcome to Margaret Atwood’s Website’, VJBauer [Online]. Available at: http://margaretatwood.ca/ (Accessed 25 January 2020).
• O’Reilly, S. (2019) Interview with Alexa von Hirschberg, The Open University [Online]. URL Unavailable.
• Potts, R. (2003) ‘Light in the wilderness’, The Guardian [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/apr/26/fiction.margaretatwood (Accessed 25 January 2020).
• Stereoboard.com (2020) ‘Margaret Atwood Tickets, Tour Dates & Concerts 2020 ♫’, Eyedigit Limited [Online]. Available at: https://www.stereoboard.com/margaret-atwood-tickets (Accessed 25 January 2020).
Updated 27th January 2021
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