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50 Margaret Atwood Quotes That Prove Words are Powerful

These impactful Margaret Atwood quotes highlight her thoughts about writing, life, fiction, storytelling, and more.

Margaret Atwood, the Canadian author, is one of my favorite authors. She is quite a prolific writer, having published 18 books of poetry, 18 novels, several children’s books, and two graphic novels.

Atwood has also written many works of non-fiction. Her book The Handmaid’s Tale was made into a HULU original series. That book is an incredible look into female oppression and puritan beliefs. These Margaret Atwood quotes delve more into that topic, as well as life lessons. Of course, she talks about writing too!

Atwood did not attend school full time until she was 12; instead, she immersed herself in literature. She graduated from Victoria College at the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She earned a Master’s degree from Radcliffe College of Harvard University.

Atwood also teaches an intriguing writing class on Master Class. Every time I log in to take another part of the course, I tell my husband that I want to be Margaret Atwood when I grow up. Enjoy these Margaret Atwood quotes!

Short but impactful Margaret Atwood quotes

1. “War is what happens when language fails.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: How many times have we told young children to use their words? A lot, because it is true. Violence is what happens when people do not communicate effectively or listen with empathy. War is just large scale violence that happens when communication breaks down.

2. “An eye for an eye only leads to more blindness.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: This one is fantastic. The message is clear. Violence begets violence and eventually it will just spread. However, she paints such a visual picture in typical Atwood fashion.

3. “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: When the weather is nice, and the air is crisp and clean, take advantage of it. Spend time outdoors immersing yourself in the beauty of nature. Plant things, lay on the grass and watch the clouds, or just take a nice long walk. Nature is soothing…and so is gardening!

4. “Reality simply consists of different points of view.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: Remember that video going around Facebook where everyone couldn’t agree on the color of the dress? Reality was there was a video of a girl in a dress. Whether or not you saw the same color as someone else was debatable. The same situation can look different to someone else based on their perspective. Again, communication and empathy are important here!

5. “If I waited for perfection… I would never write a word.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: Do you have a goal? Are you waiting for the time to be just right? Don’t do it! Take an action that gets you started. Nothing is perfect, and the real challenge is often getting started.

6. “A word after a word after a word is power.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: Use your words! Choose your words carefully. Beyond that, recognize that your ability to read, understand, and share a series of words is powerful. Your story might inspire people, save people, or even harm people. Words matter!

7. “Never pray for justice, because you might get some.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: Often times, we are unable to see how we were the villain in someone else’s story. However, somewhere out there is someone who believes you have seriously wronged them. This quote is reminder that there is always another side to the story!

8. “For years I wanted to be older, and now I am.” ― Margaret Atwood

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Everyday Application: Be careful what you wish for! Also, remember that the grass is not always greener on the other side. What will you do when you get what you wish for? How will that change your life?

9. “This above all, to refuse to be a victim.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: This doesn’t mean that bad or even terrible things won’t happen to you. It doesn’t mean to ignore them when they do. What it does mean, is to process and heal from them. Then take back your power and choose your fate.

10. “Gardening is not a rational act.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: Gardening is a labor of love. There are many benefits to gardening like: boosted mood, improved strength, and reduces stress. Check out these gardening quotes to inspire you to get outside and dig in the dirt!

11. “Some people mistakenly think nature is very nice and benevolent and never betrays.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: Nature is beautiful and wonderous. Spending time in nature has many physical and mental health benefits. However, it can also be an unrelenting force of destruction. There is duality in nature just like there is in human nature.

Margaret Atwood quotes that show age is just a number

12. “Another belief of mine; that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: Age is just a number. You can be a grown up and still be young at heart. Some of the best ways to do this include taking good care of your physical needs like exercising and getting plenty of sleep. Also, don’t be afraid to try new experiences and have fun!

13. “Myths can’t be translated as they did in their ancient soil. We can only find our own meaning in our own time.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: Live your life in the present. Plan for your future but don’t become consumed it. Increase your self-awareness so you can discover what makes you happy and fulfilled. The meaning of your life will come to you.

14. “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: Little girls really are adorable! However, if you have a daughter and have spent time with her and her friends, then you have probably noticed the amount of sass and energy packed into their small selves.

15. “Our generation in the west was lucky: we had readymade gateways. We had books, paper, teachers, schools, and libraries. But many in the world lack these luxuries. How do you practice without such tryout venues?” ― Margaret Atwood

Everyday Application: It is likely hard for many of us to think of things like books, paper, teachers, schools, and libraries as luxuries. However, there are many places out there that do not have these things at all. Then there are other places where those things are reserved just for boys and men. Check out these Malala Yousafzai quotes about how education should be a right for all.

16. “Storytelling is a very old human skill that gives us an evolutionary advantage. If you can tell young people how you kill an emu, acted out in song or dance, or that Uncle George was eaten by a croc over there, don’t go there to swim, then those young people don’t have to find out by trial and error.” ― Margaret Atwood

17. “Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy – which many believe goes hand in hand with it – will be dead as well.” ― Margaret Atwood

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18. “We thought we were running away from the grownups, and now we are the grownups.” ― Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood quotes about storytelling and fiction

19. “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. I don’t think I solve problems in my poetry; I think I uncover the problems.” ― Margaret Atwood

20. “Speculative fiction encompasses that which we could actually do. Sci-fi is that which we’re probably not going to see.” ― Margaret Atwood

21. “You’re never going to kill storytelling because it’s built into the human plan. We come with it.” ― Margaret Atwood

22. “The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.” ― Margaret Atwood

23. “All fiction is about people unless it’s about rabbits pretending to be people. It’s all essentially characters in action, which means characters moving through time and changes taking place, and that’s what we call ‘the plot’.” ― Margaret Atwood

24. “I was once a graduate student in Victorian literature, and I believe as the Victorian novelists did, that a novel isn’t simply a vehicle for private expression, but that it also exists for social examination. I firmly believe this.” ― Margaret Atwood

25. “If I pick up a book with spaceships on the cover, I want spaceships. If I see one with dragons, I want there to be dragons inside the book. Proper labeling. Ethical labeling. I don’t want to open up my cornflakes and find that they’re full of pebbles… You need to respect the reader enough not to call it something it isn’t.” ― Margaret Atwood

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Margaret Atwood quotes about the ugly things in life

26. “I hope that people will finally come to realize that there is only one ‘race’ – the human race – and that we are all members of it.” ― Margaret Atwood

27. “Heroes need monsters to establish their heroic credentials. You need something scary to overcome.” ― Margaret Atwood

28. A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.” ― Margaret Atwood

29. “A divorce is like an amputation: you survive it, but there’s less of you.” ― Margaret Atwood

30. “We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.” ― Margaret Atwood

31. “If social stability goes pear-shaped, you have a choice between anarchy and dictatorship. Most people will opt for more security, even if they have to give up some personal freedom.” ― Margaret Atwood

32. “Debt is part of the human condition. Civilization is based on exchanges – on gifts, trades, loans – and the revenge and insults that come when they are not paid back.” ― Margaret Atwood

33. “Our problem right now is that we’re so specialized that if the lights go out, there are a huge number of people who are not going to know what to do. But within every dystopia, there’s a little utopia.” ― Margaret Atwood

34. “Every utopia – let’s just stick with the literary ones – faces the same problem: What do you do with the people who don’t fit in?” ― Margaret Atwood

35. “The darkness is really out there. It’s not something that’s in my head, just. It’s in my work because it’s in the world.” ― Margaret Atwood

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36. “When things are really dismal, you can laugh, or you can cave in completely.” ― Margaret Atwood

37. “Sooner or later, I hate to break it to you, you’re gonna die, so how do you fill in the space between here and there? It’s yours. Seize your space.” ― Margaret Atwood

38. “Every aspect of human technology has a dark side, including the bow and arrow.” ― Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood quotes about writing and words

39. “The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love.” ― Margaret Atwood

40. “My brother and I were both good at science, and we were both good at English literature. Either one of us could have gone either way.” ― Margaret Atwood

41. “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.” ― Margaret Atwood

42. “You will always have partial points of view, and you’ll always have the story behind the story that hasn’t come out yet. And any form of journalism you’re involved with is going to be up against a biased viewpoint and partial knowledge.” ― Margaret Atwood

43. “Some of our earliest writing, in cuneiform, was about who owes what.” ― Margaret Atwood

44. “Popular art is the dream of society; it does not examine itself.” ― Margaret Atwood

45. “As an artist your first loyalty is to your art. Unless this is the case, you’re going to be a second-rate artist.” ― Margaret Atwood

46. “A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason.” ― Margaret Atwood

47. “Science is a tool, and we invent tools to do things we want. It’s a question of how those tools are used by people.” ― Margaret Atwood

48. “The society in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a throwback to the early Puritans whom I studied extensively at Harvard under Perry Miller, to whom the book is dedicated.” ― Margaret Atwood

49. “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.” ― Margaret Atwood

50. “You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer.” ― Margaret Atwood

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What did you learn from these Margaret Atwood quotes?

Both of Margaret Atwood’s husbands were also writers. She was married to Jim Polk, but they divorced in 1973. Her second husband was novelist Graeme Gibson, who she was still with when he sadly passed away from dementia in 2019. She wrote about him in her poem, Dearly.

She is commonly referred to as a feminist, but she claims her work is not feminism; that it’s just social realism. She later expanded on this point by explaining, “I always want to know what people mean by that word [feminism]. Some people mean it quite negatively, other people mean it very positively, some people mean it in a broad sense, other people mean it in a more specific sense. Therefore, in order to answer the question, you have to ask the person what they mean.”

Words matter to Margaret, and it doesn’t surprise me that she would seek to know the intent behind a label people were trying to attach to her work. If you have any other Margaret Atwood quotes and sayings you would like to share, feel free to leave them in the comment section below!

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor
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