If Wishes Were Horses

Two things I wish that writers wouldn’t do:

Tell readers what, and how, they should think about their books.  Believe me, I understand the impulse.  One of the hardest things to accept, if you’re a writer, is that once your story is out there loose in the world, you have absolutely no control over how other people incorporate it into their own heads. The readers who excoriate you for crimes you had no idea you were committing are bad enough; the ones who really like your books for reasons you find repulsive are even worse; and sometimes the urge to tell everybody that They’re Doing It Wrong becomes well-nigh insurmountable.

Go back and rewrite their earlier works to make them better.   I can understand this impulse, as well.  We all like to think that we’ve improved in our art since we started working at it, and our novice-writer gaucheries can make us wince.  But rewriting one’s early stuff to bring it up to standard doesn’t usually improve it enough to make it worth the loss of the energy and reckless endeavor that often characterize newbie work.  (I know there are things that I tried to do, and at least came close to carrying off, in my early stuff that I wouldn’t attempt to do now because I know how low the odds are for success.)

As for writers who go back and revise their earlier work to bring it more into line with their later political or philosophical convictions . . . they depress me.  Sure, you don’t think that way now, I want to say to them; but an earlier version of you once did.  Trying to bring those thoughts and words around to the current standard always strikes me as like trying to kill that earlier you.

2 thoughts on “If Wishes Were Horses

  1. I quite like reading what authors intended when they wrote something, but in the same way as I enjoy any other review of a book. However, having had people compliment a subtext in my work that I did not consciously put in there, I fully agree that the writer of a work should not expect a privilege in saying what is and is not there in the book.

    Rewriting can be done, but to be done well usually involves turning the work into something else rather than polishing; I have rebuilt some of my unpublished early works from the ground up but only one of them was the same story at the end.

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