Ed’s Casual Friday: Margaret Atwood on Time.

So why would I just reproduce a long poem by Margaret Atwood – Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” – in lieu of writing a whole new column on this Ed’s Casual Friday?

Well, first, because I’m a slacker at heart. But second, because I think it speaks to an issue that relatively few writers take into consideration whenever the inevitable “Trad vs. Indie” discussion comes up. Here is the thing all new writers should know: In the day-to-day life of a writer, Trad vs. Indie is a false distinction. People who think being a “Trad” author means being Stephen King or JK Rowling or the NYT Flavor-of-the-Month have a really skewed view of the life of an author, even one with a contract with a Big Six publisher. The level of success enjoyed by a very, very, very few writers obscures the fact that the average author is a harried, overworked, stressed-out bundle of daily obligations and TBD lists still trying to find some spare moments here and there to actually sit down and write. Be sure you know what you are chasing, before you spend all your time running after it.

And on that happy note, here is Atwood’s explanation of why she can’t write blurbs for other writers anymore, which is posted on her own website as “Book Burb Policy.”


“Please note that I am unable to provide a blurb or quotation for any forthcoming publications. Due to the increasing number of requests and the demands of my own work, I have had to make a decision to say “no” to all. I wrote this poem to explain my reasons for this decision.

Letter sent in reply to requests for blurbs

(I blurb only for the dead, these days)”


“You are well-known, Ms. Atwood,” the Editor said,

And we long for your quote on this book;

A few well-placed words wouldn’t bother your head,

And would help us to get in the hook!”


“In my youth,” said Ms. Atwood, “I blurbed with the best;

I practically worked with a stencil!

I strewed quotes about with the greatest largesse,

And the phrases flowed swift from my pencil.


Intelligent, lucid, accomplished, supreme,

Magnificent, touching but rough,

And lucent and lyrical, plangent, a dream,

Vital, muscular, elegant, tough!


But now I am aging; my brain is all shrunk,

And my adjective store is depleted;

My hair’s getting stringy, I walk as though drunk;

As a quotester I’m nigh-on defeated.


I would like to be useful; God knows, as a girl

I was well-taught to help and to share;

But the books and the pleas for quotes pour through the door

Till the heaps of them drive to despair!


So at last I’ve decided to say No to all.

What you need is a writer who’s youthful;

Who has energy, wit, and a lot on the ball,

And would find your new book a sweet toothful,

Or else sees no need to be truthful.


Such a one would be happy, dear Editor, to

Write you quotes until blue in the brain.

It’s a person like this who can satisfy you,

Not poor me, who am half down the drain.


So I wish you Good Luck, and your author, and book,

Which I hope to read later, with glee.

Long may you publish, and search out the blurbs,

Though you will not get any from me.


– Margaret Atwood


M. Edward McNally is the author of the Norothian Cycle books: The Sable City, Death of a Kingdom, and The Wind from Miilark, and multiple free short story volumes titled Eddie’s Shorts. He has been writing for twenty of the last thirty years and does not recommend the ten year spell of writer’s block in the middle. Ed is a contributor at Indies Unlimited (IU Bio Page) and tilts at his own windmills over at http://sablecity.wordpress.com/

Author: M. Edward McNally

Epic fantasy author M. Edward McNally is a North Carolinian of Irish/Mexican extraction. He has a Masters in English Lit from ISU and Russian/East European History from ASU. He grew up mostly in the Midwest along I-35 northbound (KS, IA, MN), and now resides in the scrub brush surrounding Phoenix AZ, where the scorpions and javelinas play. Learn more about Ed at his blog, and his Amazon author page.

11 thoughts on “Ed’s Casual Friday: Margaret Atwood on Time.”

  1. Great post. I enjoyed it beyond words. What you said in the beginning is also true. Write because that's what you have to do. If you're chasing the money, you're in for a rude awakening. Yes, it's great to sell your works and have your books on the NYT best sellers list…but that can't be the reason you write … or you'll never get there anyway.

  2. Margaret Atwood was in Stratford last fall, having coffee on the deak at Balzacs, my favourite haunt. Didn't say anything to her as her body language made it plain she did not want to be disturbed. Normally I would nod, smaile and mabe say good morning. That's the difference between celebrities from out of town and those that live here. The ones that live here act 'normal' because they know they won't be bugged. We treat them like everyone else.

  3. "Know what you are chasing, before you spend all your time running after it."

    I'm chasing a solid reader base, rave reviews, and $$$. Is it okay to chase those things?

    Oh, and AMEN to refusing book blurbs. Gah. I hate those.

  4. I love Margaret Atwood's books and have read many of them. I love this poem too. Great humor and so true. My brain is shrinking as I write this (chemo is the culprit mostly in my case).

    Thanks Ed – this was great.

  5. I love Atwood's writing, and I love this, and I especially love that the framework for her poem is stolen from Lewis Carroll's "You Are Old, Father William." 🙂 Thanks, Ed!

  6. Gosh,

    James Patterson just called and asked me to write a blurb for his next novel. Should I turn him down? I'm really busy …

    Loved the poem and the post.

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