Book Review: Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood

I like to believe that I am a writer. I think of it as something I do, should be doing, enjoy doing, and is a part of my life. When introducing myself, it is always one of the first few words I use to describe myself. Long story short (though I have made it long already), I think that writing and me go together like cookies and cookie monster.

It was no surprise, then, when I received Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing as a gift by a published poet for graduating from Wheelock.* Clearly, here was a book that I needed to read. A book on writing by a writer? Yes! Also: Margaret Atwood.

Atwood’s book delves into a series of topics that every writer contemplates at some point in his or her writing life. Who are we as writers? Who do we write for? How will people think about us if/when we make it big? What is the relationship between the writer, the reader, and the book? And, what role does the reader play in influencing us and/or our writing?

It is evident by the title and the numerous quotes adorning every page that previous writers and ideas play a significant role in our own identities and writing. We must listen to them and heed their advice, warnings, and stories. I mean, we are always being told that writers must read to be better writers, and Atwood definitely reinforces this fact as a way to answer the bigger questions that plague us (or help guide us to answer these questions on our own).

One particular explanation that stuck by me was her differentiation of the art of writing from other artistic forms of expression. She explains that writing is the only type that has a voice: “Other art forms can last and last – painting, sculpture, music – but they do not survive as voice” (pg. 158). Not only does that allow me to think of myself as an artist, but it also reminds me that my creative form of expression has its own identity, which means it has its own questions that are unique to its form.

After reading this book, I was left feeling much more at ease when dealing with these questions. I felt supported and had more of an understanding to how I am to proceed as a writer in today’s publishing – a world that I had only imagined as a goal before.

As a writer, I am still left with millions of unanswered questions. However, I have made progress in how I think of writing, writers, readers, and the infinite ways in which they interact with each other.

*I’ve noticed a pattern in the books that I am given; most of them are self- help or general productivity/insightful books about one aspect of my identity. I should try reviewing them more often.


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