Orson Scott Card Interview
Are there any colleges in particular that you believe have good classes for
Not really. The best improvement in writing comes from writing - the more
you do it, the more you recognize and solve problems on your own, the better you
are at it, without any help at all from others.
However, in most cases you should not be thinking about "improving" your
"writing" at all -- just as, in bicycling, you don't think about improving your
pedaling. Instead, you should concentrate on the road ahead -- the analogy being
that you should concentrate on the story you're trying to tell, on being inventive
and on presenting the story clearly, without even a thought of style or grammar or
Writers who are thinking about their writing usually write badly; even when they
write well, the stories are rarely worth reading. But writers who concentrate on
telling a story they care about and believe in, as clearly as possible, usually come
to discover that they have a distinctive voice that other people recognize as
uniquely their own -- a voice that they didn't "create" but that instead emerges
from their own natural style of speech. Indeed, just as everybody has different
voices in their speech (the "telephone voice," the voice we use with babies, the
voice we use with lovers, the voice we use with parents, the voice we use with
friends, with teachers, with policemen, etc.), without even meaning to most writers
who are concentrating on clarity and story creation will have as many voices as
In college classes, however, you are invariably told to concentrate on precisely
those things that should be ignored so they can emerge naturally -- on symbols,
on style, on "theme" -- while the things that you should be thinking about, and
which, to a degree, can be taught -- invention, structure -- are ignored. In fact,
it's considered bad form even to bring them up in many a college writing class.
Having said that, I must say that I have known several excellent writing teachers.
But even they, to a degree, have been at least partially afflicted with these flaws.
It has to do with the attitudes toward literature and what makes literature
worthwhile in the culture of college English departments. It is rare to find
someone who takes part in such a department yet remains immune to the myopia
and self-love that afflicts that culture -- and the culture of literature departments
throughout the West.
At what age did you decide you wanted to be an author? Have you been
writing since childhood?
I've been writing since childhood, but never thought of it as a career
(mostly I was a poet, you see, and no one in his right mind thinks of poetry as a
career <grin>). I entered college as an archaeology major, having given up on
several other career thoughts. Quickly I switched to theatre, however, since I was
spending all my time in the theatre department anyway. In the midst of trying to
learn to act and direct, I found myself taking most pleasure -- and having most
success - in doctoring scripts and adaptating non-dramatic stories into dramatic
form. Soon I tried writing scripts of my own, and before long I realized that if I
had any particular knack in theatre, it was in the area of writing.
Then, when I realized that you can have a hit play and lose money, I tried my hand
at fiction writing and the first story I wrote after becoming serious about it, I sold.
It was "Ender's Game."
Did you have a favorite author that inspired you to write?
I had many favorite writers at different stages of my life, and none of them
inspired me to write. Quite the contrary -- favorite authors inspired me to read.
What inspired me to write, the actual event that triggered me to write my first
original script, was seeing a play that I hated. I thought, "That story deserved to
be told better. Even I could have done a better job!" And then set out to prove it.
As I tell my writing students today: There are two motives for becoming a writer:
"I wish I could write like that," and "If that can be published, I can write!" The
first motive makes you derivative, imitative; the second, original and a bit arrogant
and rebellious. Arrogant and rebellious are traits that help you forge a writing
career; derivative and imitative are usually not.
Who has been your greatest supporter? Mother, father...
My mother's greatest natural talent -- and she had many great talents! --
was the gift of encouragement. She could make anybody feel proud of their
accomplishments. And she did it without fawning or flattering -- she honestly
found something good and praised it warmly. Not only her children, but
everybody else she has come in contact with has been helped by that gift. My
father was supportive in a different way -- he was always ready to lend a hand,
give a ride, build, paint, photograph ... whatever it took to get any project finished.
He was resourceful and clever in his solutions to problems, and you always knew
that he would come up with a solution, so any project I undertook, my dad was
My wife has, over the years, become the most perceptive and helpful editor I
know, not only of my work but of the work of other writers.
Would you suggest writing as a career to anyone?
I don't have to. Those who should be writing as a career already know it.
How long does it take you to write a novel?
Years to think of it. About six weeks to type it.
Do you ever completely redo a novel? As in, are you just disappointed how
one turned out, so you just start over?
I did rewrite my first novel from beginning to end -- after it was published.
That's why "Hot Sleep" is not in print, and "Worthing Chronicle" (as part of the
collection "The Worthing Saga") is.
But I have never had to completely redo a novel in manuscript, because I get it
right the first time. On the other hand, I have often thrown out openings --
sometimes a hundred pages or more -- and started over, saving not a word of the
first draft. Because of the beginning doesn't work, there's no way to save the rest
of the book. And if I ever found myself with a finished novel, and discovered that
the beginning didn't work and the whole thing had to be done over, I would do it
Many teachers, however, teach their students that they should write multiple
drafts. Perhaps this is true in essay writing (though I doubt it), but it is absolutely
not true in fiction writing. In fiction writing, any mistake you make, in terms of
what happens in the story and why, will cause new errors in every later scene, and
therefore it must be fixed before you go on. If you have the attitude, "Oh, I'll fix
that on the second draft," then you're dead. The story will fail. The fiction writer
must write each scene with the iron determination to get it right this time or he
will not go on. If you do that, then when you get to the end, you will have done it
right ... the first time.
Not sure how to word this one, its a bit personal, but about how much money
does a writer make, say per book?
Writers are paid a percentage of the sales of the book, usually a royalty of
6-10% of the cover price on paperbacks, and 10-15% of the cover price on
hardbacks. Publishers also usually pay an advance against those royalties, usually
beginning at about $3,000 but conceivably reaching the millions in the case of
writers with proven track records. The author then receives no royalties until the
book has sold enough copies that the publisher has made back the full amount that
was paid to the writer in advance. Once a book earns out the advance, then the
writer resumes receiving royalties on each copy sold. If a book never earns out
the advance, the publisher eats the loss -- the author does not have to repay the
advance. But you can be sure the publisher won't pay such a large advance the
next time! Indeed, some writers actually turn down high advances because they'd
rather receive the money through royalties and never have to worry about the
publisher suffering a loss if the advance turns out to have been too high.
If a writer receives an advance before turning in the manuscript, and then never
produces the book, the writer does have to return the money advanced. That's
why many writers yearn for the day when they are making enough from royalties
that they can refuse advances and simply write whatever they feel like writing and
offer it to publishers as a finished work.
Is writing your full-time career?
I live entirely from the sales of my writing, yes.
Are you coming out with any more Ender books?
There are no sequels planned to Children of the Mind, the last of the novels
about Ender Wiggin. However, the Shadow series, set in the same future as
Ender's Game but following Bean and other characters from Ender's Game, will
continue until we have four books, "Ender's Shadow," "Shadow of the Hegemon,"
"Shadow Puppets," and "The Shadow of the Giant."