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QUESTION:

Though I am not a writer myself, I have a question to which I think you could provide an answer. I am an oil painter, and though I have been painting for quite a while now, when I look back on my previous paintings, I often feel that they never quite said what I wanted to say.

My question is this: As you are unable to re-write any of your previous works, yet they are always open to criticism, are you frustrated at this situation, or are you proud of every story you wrote?

-- Submitted Anonymously

OSC REPLIES: - February 1, 2001

Actually, I did rewrite some of my early works. My fragmented first novel, Hot Sleep, I rewrote as the much more harmonious "Worthing Chronicle," which was then bundled with some stories from my first collection, "Capitol," so I was able to leave out the really awful ones <grin>.

Then, when a new printing of my second novel, A Planet Called Treason, was being planned, I did substantial revision of the opening and a few changes through the rest of the book. The result was "Treason."

A bunch of my other novels were rewrites, too -- of novelets or novellas. "Ender's Game," "Songmaster," "Hart's Hope," and "Wyrms" all existed in shorter form before I made them into novels.

Criticism does not frustrate me when it is directed at the work itself. And when it becomes an attack on me personally, which is the standard way academic-literary critics approach genre writers (they don't understand the work, so all they can talk about is the author), it certainly doesn't make me want to revise my work. I learn from my mistakes, and I'd like to think I'm writing better now than I was early in my career.

Still, everything I wrote was the best I could do at that time with the story I wanted to tell. The only skills I can use are those I've acquired up to the point of writing the story, and those that I learn while writing it. Each book is a snapshot of the kind of writer I was at the time I wrote the book. I have nothing to apologize for, and the only reason I'd go back and rewrite now is if there is something in one of the books that has not aged well and that now interferes with the audience's ability to receive the work as I intended.

Some people intensely dislike one or another of my books. (For instance, I just heard from a perfectly sincere person who is convinced that Ender's Game is not only an evil influence on children, but I should somehow already see this and therefore I am evil for not having withdrawn it from them already -- despite the fact that I hear constantly from others about what a good influence Ender's Game is on children <grin>.) My advice to them is ... don't recommend it to your friends. No story can please everybody, and when my stories fail to please, it is often because I simply care about a different kind of story from the kind of story that particular reader is wishing for. So what? There are other writers in the world, and they can go elsewhere for their reading pleasure. I can only write the stories I care about and believe in, using the techniques I've learned up to now. Beyond that, I am unable to go -- and uninterested in trying <grin>.

My feeling is that with every book I've written, I did the very best I could

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