Altered States

Margaret Atwood — A Living Legend on Creative Process, The Handmaid’s Tale, Being a Mercenary Child, Resisting Labels, the Poet Rug Exchange, Liminal Beings, Burning Questions, Practical Utopias, and More (#573)

Illustration via 99designs

“The reason I resist closed boxes is that nature does not deal in closed boxes.”

— Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood (@margaretatwood) is the author of more than 50 books of fiction, poetry, critical essays, and graphic novels. Dearly, her first collection of poetry in over a decade, was published November 2020. Her latest novel, The Testaments, is a co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize. It is the long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, now an award-winning TV series. Her other works of fiction include Cat’s Eye, finalist for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; the MaddAddam Trilogy; and Hag-Seed: William Shakespeare’s The Tempest Retold.

Margaret’s work has been published in more than 45 countries, and she is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Franz Kafka International Literary Prize, the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize Innovator’s Award.

Burning Questions, a collection of essays from 2004–2021 will be published in March of this year. Practical Utopias: An Exploration of the Possible, an eight-week, live, online learning experience, will run later this year.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

Brought to you by 80,000 Hours free career advice for high impact and doing good in the world, Eight Sleep’s Pod Pro Cover sleeping solution for dynamic cooling and heating, and LinkedIn Jobs recruitment platform with 770M+ users. More on all three below.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#573: Margaret Atwood — A Living Legend on Creative Process, The Handmaid’s Tale, Being a Mercenary Child, Resisting Labels, the Poet Rug Exchange, Liminal Beings, Burning Questions, Practical Utopias, and More

This episode is brought to you by 80,000 Hours! You have roughly 80,000 hours in your career. That’s 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year for 40 years. They add up and are one of your biggest opportunities, if not the biggest opportunity, to make a positive impact on the world. Some of the best strategies, best research, and best tactical advice I’ve seen and heard come from 80,000 Hours, a nonprofit co-founded by Will MacAskill, an Oxford philosopher and a popular past guest on this podcast.

If you’re looking to make a big change to your direction, address pressing global problems from your current job, or if you’re just starting out or maybe starting a new chapter and not sure which path to pursue, 80,000 Hours can help. Join their free newsletter, and they’ll send you an in-depth guide for free that will help you identify which global problems are most pressing and where you can have the biggest impact personally. It will also help you get new ideas for high-impact careers or directions that help tackle these issues.

This episode is brought to you by Eight Sleep! Eight Sleep’s Pod Pro Cover is the easiest and fastest way to sleep at the perfect temperature. It pairs dynamic cooling and heating with biometric tracking to offer the most advanced (and user-friendly) solution on the market. Simply add the Pod Pro Cover to your current mattress and start sleeping as cool as 55°F or as hot as 110°F. It also splits your bed in half, so your partner can choose a totally different temperature.

And now, my dear listeners—that’s you—can get $250 off the Pod Pro Cover. Simply go to or use code TIM at checkout. 

This episode is brought to you by LinkedIn Jobs. Whether you are looking to hire now for a critical role or thinking about needs that you may have in the future, LinkedIn Jobs can help. LinkedIn screens candidates for the hard and soft skills you’re looking for and puts your job in front of candidates looking for job opportunities that match what you have to offer.

Using LinkedIn’s active community of more than 770 million professionals worldwide, LinkedIn Jobs can help you find and hire the right person faster. When your business is ready to make that next hire, find the right person with LinkedIn Jobs. And now, you can post a job for free. Just visit

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear an episode about with author who, according to Margaret Atwood, is more prolific than old? Listen to my conversation with Joyce Carol Oates, in which we discuss the most important “writerly” quality, overcoming obstacles to creativity, how to know when a final draft is ready to release into the world, and much more.

#497: Joyce Carol Oates — A Writing Icon on Creative Process and Creative Living
  • Connect with Margaret Atwood:

Website | Twitter | Instagram


  • When jumping into a new writing project, does Margaret know if it’s going to be expressed as poetry or prose? From her perspective, is there a difference in where they originate? How do these two sometimes act in synergy? [07:59]
  • How does Margaret maintain her vital life energy at 82 years young? [16:55]
  • In what way does astrology — particularly Gemini rising — explain Margaret’s tendency to “stick [her] nose into things?” [18:45]
  • The Gift vs. Trickster Makes This World. [24:24]
  • What drives Margaret’s ability to craft engaging speculative fiction? [26:51]
  • What are the downsides of raising a family in the woods, blissfully isolated from the world? Margaret shares a glimpse into her own childhood. [33:07]
  • How crossing a football field in a pink princess line dress nudged Margaret toward writing poetry for the first time. [38:03]
  • How the limited number of career options from which a young woman was expected to choose guided Margaret toward her current profession — and how long it took to start paying off. [44:17]
  • What benefit did Margaret get from writing during the time before being paid to do so? [49:44]
  • As someone who’s often found herself in the teaching profession, what type of teaching has Margaret enjoyed most? [52:59]
  • Why Margaret considers The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson to be required reading for young adults. [55:28]
  • Why Margaret resists the act of labeling that humans tend toward. [58:24]
  • What explains Margaret’s ongoing interest in dystopian — as well as utopian — literature, and what can people expect from “Practical Utopias: An Exploration of the Possible,” her eight-week online learning experience? [1:02:58]
  • Comparing and contrasting major revolutions and political upheavals of recent centuries, and what Margaret learned by visiting Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War. [1:08:31]
  • How is the DISCO online learning platform that will host “Practical Utopias: An Exploration of the Possible” different from other such platforms, and what kind of problems will participants be solving? [1:12:01]
  • What readers can expect from Burning Questions. [1:14:42]
  • How has Margaret’s writing process changed over the course of her life? What does it look like these days? [1:19:24]
  • A tangent about shows we binge when our writing quotas for the day are fulfilled, an H.G. Wells story about perspective, and a Twilight Zone episode that (surprise!) doesn’t end well for its protagonist. [1:22:04]
  • Tezos NFTs, illustrated utopias, and inventions fitting unexpected functions. [1:24:22]
  • A spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t yet read The Testaments and doesn’t want to know what happens to a character from The Handmaid’s Tale: skip ahead to the next timestamp! [1:31:48]
  • Does Margaret do research for her characters? [1:33:27]
  • Margaret turns the tables and asks me what prompted my podcasting endeavors. [1:35:36]
  • Dictation apps, the three Henry Jameses, and confessional stenographers. [1:37:48]
  • Undertaking winter adventures at high elevations and other parting thoughts. [1:41:25]


“You bring to any book who you already are and the age that you are and the experience that you’ve had, and it’s the same for everyone.”
— Margaret Atwood

“The reason I resist closed boxes is that nature does not deal in closed boxes.”
— Margaret Atwood

“There I was in my pink princess line dress crossing the football field, and a poem occurred to me. It wasn’t a very good poem, but it was a poem. I was very excited about it. And this is how these things start. You write some pretty terrible poetry that you’re very excited about, and luckily there’s nobody there to tell you, ‘This is really terrible poetry,’ and then you go on from there.”
— Margaret Atwood

“I was going to be a botanist because I was actually quite good at it. But then along came this writing, much to my parents’ dismay. But being the bite-your-tongue kind of parents, I think they just hoped it would be a phase that I would grow out of.”
— Margaret Atwood

“Writers make stuff up. You ask them questions that essentially have no answers, but they make stuff up anyway. I’ll tell you what I made up, but it is kind of true.”
— Margaret Atwood


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 700 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Unlocking True Healing: An Interview with Jonalyn Greene on Overcoming Adversity and Embracing Holistic Wellness
Unlock the Power of Yemaya With Rituals, Prayers, Offerings & More
Embracing Your True Self with Holly Eden Morrow, The Multifaceted Soul Guide
Paimon Prayers for Magick, Influence, and Astral Projection
Pavel Tsatsouline and Christopher Sommer (#748)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *