Generating Ideas with Margaret Atwood

Today, you’ll be hearing from writer and psychotherapist, Lori Gottlieb. Lori is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. She also writes the weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column for The Atlantic and is the co-host of the iHeart Radio podcast “Dear Therapists.” Her TED Talk was one of the topmost watched talks of 2019. In this episode, Lori offers tips on having difficult conversations, why you should strive for ordinary, what the two kinds of anxiety are, and much more.

Need a sneak peek? Below are the main takeaways from the episode.

Generating Ideas with Margaret Atwood

Tip #1

“When I started writing, it was in Canada in the 50s. And nobody was a successful writer in Canada in the 50s. It was a recent Max colony. There had been a nascent writing community in the 20s and 30s that was destroyed by the war. The 50s was a very male period of writing, it was very American-dominated. It was dominated also by the fact that the paperback industry had just sprung up. and Canada did not have a paper paperback industry. So you might publish a book and hardback and then it would just disappear because it would not be available in paperback. So all of these were cultural factors. That meant that writers of my generation in Canada did not expect to become successful. We didn’t have a model for doing that. I think people who have never published anything are totally free because they have no expectations. whatsoever. Really. They have no expectations coming on to them from other people. I’ve always been a bit impervious to other people’s expectations, I think partly because I grew up in a pretty isolated way. So I didn’t grow up in a community in which everybody was watching you all the time and criticizing you all the time and telling you what you should or should not wear, be safe, or do any of those kinds of things. So I did my own thing, pretty much and writing was what I wanted to do not because I thought I could be successful at it, but because I wanted to do it. So things worked out otherwise, much, to my surprise, but at the beginning, that certainly wasn’t anything that anybody had in their head.”

Tip #2

“Writers don’t have power. Okay, they don’t make laws, they don’t have an army. They can’t order the arrest of anybody, they have no power of that kind. So let us not say that writers have power and let us say that writers may have influence, but they are only going to have influence on people who read. I would say the amount of influence that they have is really pretty small. And then they will say, Well, why can you possibly write you know, as a fiction writer, what can you possibly write in times like days? And I said, well, there is one kind of literature that has always been possible, even in terrible times. And that is the literature of witness. So the people who wrote things down and wrote down what was happening, and I’m going again, all the way back to the great mortality, bubonic plague, Black Death. We know what we know about it, largely because people wrote things down. Okay, they recorded. So literature of wetness. And, you can certainly write that and at a time like this.”

Tip #3

“Let me tell you a story. When my kids were about five, they said, we’re putting on a play. And they sold tickets to the play, they were in 25 cents. So we bought a ticket to the plane, we went to the flight number two of them, and the plane started. They were having breakfast, is the breakfast motif. And they were saying things like, Could I have some orange juice? Yes, here it is. I would like some milk, please. Here’s the milk, could I please have some cereal? And cereal? This went on for a while. And I said, is anything else going to happen? And they said, No. And I said, Well, in that case, we’re leaving. And when you think of something else that’s going to happen, we’ll come back to see the rest of it. So a story isn’t just this and that, and this and that, and this and that. Something has to happen. And the something that has to happen shouldn’t be a surprise to the person reading the book. And often to you the person writing the book. And, of course, some of those things are going to be emotionally draining scenes because of it’s just one happy event after another. People are going to be going; anything else is going to happen. So I think we we have emotionally draining things in books because it allows us in a way to wonder how we the reader would deal with creative ideas.”

Tip #4

“I get ideas from the world around me. I read a lot of newspapers, magazines, books, histories, watching what what kinds of things are happening and what sorts of technologies people are using to make them happen. I could do a blog called the Blog of Hope in which I put in the hopeful ones that might be encouraging at this point. So for The Handmaid’s Tale, it was the age of we didn’t have internet yet so it’s clippings of a big box of clippings. And for this, I wouldn’t call them more like, more like URLs and printouts. But my rule for both of these books was nothing goes in unless there’s an example of that detail from somewhere in real life and preferably several examples.”

Tip #5

“How’s it people don’t follow me down the street, ripping off, it’s my clothing, for wet time daily, right? I think that readers as fans are a different kind of person. Now, their idea is not to get in a crowd and scream and yell and have hysterics, their idea is to get in a room with the book all by themselves and have their communication with the book. And the writer in a way is incidental to that. And once you’ve written the book, you can be dispensed with. And apart from that, you know, once you realize that there are only 24 hours in a day, then you just have to cope when you’re less well known. Let’s pretend you get 10 requests a year, all of which you can fulfill. Okay, so you’re fulfilling 100% of the requests. When you’re better known, you get a much greater number of requests, but you can still only do 10 a year. So you start feeling very negative because you’re saying no all the time. I have a wonderful, wonderful assistant called Sarah. And she answers the phone. And she’s very good at saying no in a polite way. So that that is what I do. And she runs my schedule and says you can’t do this because you don’t have time.”

Tip #6

“So when you have a job? Do you write at night? Yeah, so when you have a job when you’re a student, those kinds of things, you’re going to be a night writer. When you have a child when the child is small if you still have a brain at that point. And it does come back, you are going to write when the child is asleep. When the child goes to school you’re going to write when the child is at school when the child sniffle, sniffle sniffle goes off, on its own grows up and goes off on its own, then you’re probably and you’re getting quite Dare I say middle-aged. Yes, I’m going to say middle age, you’re probably going to be writing in the daytime. Then there’s another thing that happens when you pass a certain moment in which you seem to need less sleep. So right now I’m a procrastinating nighttime writer. In other words, I’m back to doing what I used to do in about 1964. So many pages is usually how I do it. So not so much time. And that’s that’s motivating. Because if you write the number of pages that you think you shouldn’t be writing that day, you can then give off and watch. really silly murder mysteries.”

Tip #7

“You can get the idea for a novel in quite a short period of time. But then you have to sit down and work out it. So what they say is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. So the rest of it is working it out. And while you’re working it out, you often get more indifferent and new ideas. Because the idea that you may have originally started with isn’t working out quite the way you thought it might. So your biggest friend as a novelist is your wastepaper basket. You throw out the things that aren’t working unless you think there’s something you might use later, in which case you save it. And that can be a long process. It can take you know, a year or two years to work out an idea that you might have had in five minutes. So we don’t know where ideas come from. They can come from anywhere, really. But it’s working out of it that makes it involved and when you’re working out you’re looking at you’re looking structure and you’re looking at pacing. So here is a tip. If you’re writing a murder mystery, put one dead body quite close to the front.”

Connect with Margaret Atwood:

X: @margaretatwood

Instagram: @therealmargaretatwood




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