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Atwood on being a writer

It's strange reading this autobiographical article by Margaret Atwood in today's New York Times. She writes:

How is it that I became a writer? It wasn't a likely thing for me to have done, nor was it something I chose, as you might choose to be a lawyer or a dentist. It simply happened, suddenly, in 1956, while I was crossing the football field on the way home from school. I wrote a poem in my head and then I wrote it down, and after that writing was the only thing I wanted to do.

Is it really that simple? I suppose, in one sense, it is — but only in the same sense that millions of us are writers. It seems odd that she has such an innocent take on it, as if she had nothing to do with it at all. And, to be honest, reading the article I didn't think much of her writing; it's a loose and almost clumsy piece, meandering through her thoughts and recollections. If I didn't know better, I might even buy it.

But I don't think for a second that what really makes her (or anyone) a writer is that first moment of inspiration. I've composed countless bad poems on countless walks, and even written some down, but hardly count myself a poet. Rather, if ever I will say, I'm a writer, it will because I've done the work that turns the inspiration into something real, something worth reading. And that is not just work, but hard work, and long — a substantial task, even for someone with the talent of Margaret Atwood. But it's what distinguishes the writers from the posers and the wannabes. It's not the wanting to write that a writer makes, but the writing.

March 11, 2002 5:01 PM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

I think she only meant that from that moment it's all she really wanted to do. Who knows how many times she questioned that epiphany as she toiled at her (in my opinion) just-above-mediocre art, before some publisher found her worthy. But knowing the long suffering required by friends who "knew" they wanted to be writers before the hand of pure luck touched their shoulder, I'd say the fact she stuck to her guns is validation enough of her "moment of calling."

Posted by Les on March 12, 2002 4:00 PM


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