Shawn Speakman, one of the bloggers over at Suvudu, has long been a defender of George R.R. Martin. Whenever bellyaching occurs at the Official Terry Brooks Forum (a forum dedicated to Brooks, but home to a lively discussion of other authors as well), he is the first one to jump in and defend Martin against those who think Martin owes them something.
The Terry Brooks forum is far from the only place where people complain about Martin’s ‘slowness’, and Speakman has written a compelling argument about why people should give Martin a break. It’s long, but certainly worth the read.
A Song of Ice & Fire is an extremely powerful story that invokes passion in all who read it.
That passion is a double-edged sword, able to cut an enemy as quickly as its bearer. While the four books and two short stories that comprise A Song of Ice & Fire are universally garnered as being some of the best storytelling ever, animosity swirls around George. The fourth book, A Feast For Crows, took five years to be published and it contained only half of the characters fans have come to love. Upon publishing A Feast For Crows, George posted that he was near to completing the other half of the story, A Dance With Dragons, with the novel coming to bookstores quickly.
That was three years ago and A Dance With Dragons is still not complete.
This has aroused a great deal of anger for many of George’s fans. Five years is a long time to wait for a sequel to arguably one of the best fantasy series of all time, especially when most writers are able to produce sequels between one and three years. But as I’ve come to discover, anger is one of the least logical emotions we possess; it can lead people to conclusions that are not wholly accurate—if not down right wrong. Much of the animosity I see written about George and his lateness is colored by that kind of anger and, while I believe there are two instances where fans of A Song of Ice & Fire are more than allowed their ire, most of it lacks any authenticity whatsoever.
This article hopes to dispel some of those erroneous angry feelings and assumptions out there—or at least give a different side to things that most readers probably have not thought of.
Speakman hits the nail on the head when he alludes to the double edge of the passion wielded by Martin’s fans. It’s that passion, that desire for the world, the characters and the story of A Song of Ice and Fire, that sets Martin’s fans apart from others. Without those passionate fans, Martin’s series would not be at such soaring heights of popularity today and, ironically, he might not be afforded the luxury of taking years to finish each volume. At this point, George certainly doesn’t right for money and clearly wants to put out the best possible novel. That same passion that drives people to be such fanatics of his series is also the same passion that fuels the accusations of laziness, lack of enthusiasm of just plain ol’ football fever that are constantly leveled at Martin by his ‘fans’.
All right. Let me begin by relating my opinion on why these fans do indeed have a valid argument to be downright nasty and rancorous.
As this is a business, and contracts are a reality, deadlines must be kept. To not do so is to be unprofessional. Fans have every right to be upset about George being unprofessional. That is a very valid argument and one I believe as well.
Second, the moment George turned in A Feast For Crows, he told his fans how the book had been split asunder, his reasons for doing it, and that A Dance With Dragons would be released relatively soon. He hoped to finish A Dance With Dragons by the end of 2006, according to his website, which would have been a year after the publication of A Feast For Crows. His words, not mine.
That self-imposed deadline by George was also not met. It misled his fans into believing the next book would be published within a year after A Feast For Crows. Whether that is just poor planning by George or a lie, no one knows—I prefer to think the craft of writing George employs gave him poor judgment and that there was no malicious intent on his part to mislead his fans. Disappointment is hard to swallow though; it festers and won’t let go in those who aren’t practiced at it. Those fans feel lied to, maybe even manipulated, and they certainly have another valid argument there I cannot disagree with.
To be fair, Martin did shoot himself in the foot several times leading up to his final decision to (more or less) keep silent about release dates and progress on A Dance with Dragons. He should have kept his mouth shut all along. If he hadn’t mentioned that A Dance with Dragons was only a few months behind A Feast for Crows, I doubt we’d have nearly as many irate fans as we do. Sure, people would be mad (it’s the Internet folks, what more can you expect?), but perhaps not feeling as betrayed.
The Internet is a powerful tool for authors. Some use it wisely, like the wise cracking Joe Abercrombie and Patrick Rothfuss; some don’t use it at all, like Greg Keyes or Scott Lynch; and then some use it poorly, like George R.R. Martin.
Here’s a tip, George, if you’re listening: if you’re years late on a book that people are slavering over don’t make constant posts about Football, don’t make posts about little beautifully painted figurines, don’t make posts about politics. Now, I’m not qualified to judge how hard you’re working (probably very, you seem like a busy man), and I don’t begrudge you being a Football fan (Hockey fan here!), or your other hobbies, nor to I think they should be put aside in the face of writing. But, and there’s always a but, every one of those posts just reaffirms fans fears that you’re just not working hard enough on your novel. Blog lots, but make sure that each and every one of those posts ensures fans that A Dance with Dragons is on track to be the best damn novel you’ve ever written.
I’ve discovered two different kinds of writers in all my years being around them. There are those I call Outliners and those I call Freewriters. They are very different.
A Freewriter knows very little about where the story is taking them. When they sit down at the keyboard, they act almost like a medium, a vessel where the story comes through them onto the written page. They don’t outline but instead write what comes to them in the moment with very little planning if any at all. Often Freewriters are reduced to using deux ex machina or having to backtrack their way out of situations they have written themselves into. As an example, Stephen King is a Freewriter.
George is, from what I understand, a Freewriter.
So, what does that mean? Well, it means George does not plan in advance what he writes. As a result, George will often write several chapters, which takes up several weeks, decide on a different and better course of direction, and have to erase those chapters—and quite possibly several others that came before them. Those weeks are gone with no output to show for it other than having a better sense of where he is going. According to him, that very thing has happened several times over the course of the last few years, delaying A Feast For Crows and now A Dance With Dragons. Unlike King, who sometimes has lackluster endings to his novels due to, in my opinion, lack of planning, George is an editor who will not publish something unless it is done right. The manner in which George writes can be volatile to the reader who believes George just needs to spend a certain amount of time at the keyboard to produce a manuscript.
Like Speakman, I am an Outliner. In working on my current novel, Through Bended Grass, I know the twist and the turns, I knew how it ended before I wrote the first word. It scares me to think of going into writing any novel without having a firm grasp on the story. The idea that Martin would tackle something as massive as A Song of Ice and Fire without outlining it is, frankly, terrifying. In fact, this is probably one of the major reasons that A Song of Ice and Fire has taken spread well beyond the planned trilogy and is still, 13 years later, expanding with no end in sight.
But (and didn’t I say there would always be a but?), Martin’s ‘Freewriting’ is probably also the reason his series is as successful as it is. Let’s be honest here, A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t get by on its originality – Dragons? Check. Armies? Check. Mysterious race living in the far north? Check. Children shaping the history of the world? Check – but rather it is the execution of the story that excels. Martin has the indelible ability to keep the reader always on the edge of their seat, he’s proven time and time again that nobody is safe, that even if you think you know what’s going on, you have no idea.
Martin is unpredicatble because of his ‘Freewriting’. Oftentime, while reading a novel that was obviously outlined before writing, one can get a sense of the overall narrative structure and can sense events happening far before they do. Leave it to ominous foreshadowing or simply poor storytelling skills, but outlining, in some cases, can hurt a writer if they make the process too obvious. Martin, as a freewriter, avoids this because he doesn’t necessarily know what’s coming next.
When I was only a reader and had not dabbled in the craft of writing or spent any time around those who use it, I always imagined that all a writer had to do was sit at a keyboard, hit keys for hours a day, and at the end of a year a book would exist. Seems plausible, right? Perfectly logical.
The reality is quite different—and more complex.
Every writer I have spoken to comes to a point in their creative day where, no matter how much they wish differently, the written word just does not happen the way it should. The writing becomes stagnant; it becomes useless and is simply not good enough to be published. No matter if the writer sits and tries to hammer their way through, nothing changes. To sit at the keyboard during that time is a waste of time.
I call it the Creative Wall.
All writers come to that Wall during their writing day, at least all writers I know. The average amount of time differs between writers. For instance, Terry Brooks spends between five or six hours a day before he is simply burnt out. Steven Erikson, on the other hand, doesn’t come to his Creative Wall until seven or eight hours have passed. For me, it is four or five hours. Every writer is different; every writer deals with it.
George comes to a Wall during his writing day too.
Oh god, tell me about it. Any creative type – painter, designer, musician, blogger, writer, etc… – can attest to this. I’d love to be able to sit down and write for 8 straight hours every day. But I can’t. My Creative Wall hits after a few hours and I need to move on to something else for the day. It could be hard to explain to those who are the creative type, but in the end, as wonderful as writing for a living must be, it is, in the end, a career and has all the negatives associated with having to work for a living.
“Push through it,” you say? Not so fast. Speakman explains why:
That is time fans believe he should be writing on A Dance With Dragons.
That would be disastrous.
Every day, after George has hit his Creative Wall, he has many hours where he can work on other projects and enjoy his other hobbies. This is time he can’t use on A Dance With Dragons, as I’ve illustrated; once he has come to that Wall, any time spent writing is pointless. What his hobbies and additional projects give George, however, is far more important than anyone realizes. They allow him to recharge those creative batteries so he can return the next day feeling refreshed and ready to write on A Dance With Dragons again. Removing those hobbies from his life would result in the same stagnation that comes about when a writer hits their Creative Wall.
I got to a local cafe to write. They know me there, say ‘hi’ when I come in. It’s nice, a comfort zone that helps me be more productive. But even in a perfect environment I know when I’ve hit that creative wall. It can come on quick, it can be a slow burn, but once I’ve hit it, I leave. As mentioned earlier, writing is Martin’s job and no one can force themselves to work harder and longer than they’re able and stilll expect to produce the same quality of material.
Once upon a time, George was more up front about his progress. He would post what he had finished and when he hoped to be done. After that initial 2006 year when he said he’d have A Dance With Dragons wrapped up, however, things changed for George. The fans this article is mostly pointed at reared up and became more vocal, more angry. They sent their misgivings to George about A Dance With Dragons being late; they sent emails and made blog comments filled with rancor.
Those posts upset George. And why shouldn’t they? It took him a bit more than three years to write A Feast For Crows after changing direction and George had to feel good about that. To have his fans turn on him undoubtedly was painful—and probably made him angry. He realized there was no point updating his fans if every time he did it he would receive grief in his inbox and posted on his blog. So he stopped.
Now readers are angry George no longer updates his fans about his progress.
But let us analyze his Not a Blog. George talked about A Dance With Dragons approximately 28 times in the two years 2007-2008. That’s quite often, in my book, more than once a month on average. Some of his comments are just him assuring his fans he is working on the book, but some of the posts are George talking specifically about what point of view chapters he had finished or was working on. A Tyrion chapter here. A Dany chapter there. A Bran revision completed. A Jon Snow total rewrite accomplished.
These are updates.
Even if there is no meter to see where those updates stand in the completion of the book.
To want George to add more information about the completion time of Dragons when readers throw that progress immediately in his face is mesmerizing to me. Why would any writer want to do that to themselves?
This is one area where Speakman and I diverge. As I touched upon earlier, I think Martin should blog about the novel more. There’s reassurance in knowing how much work is being done. It doesn’t have to directly relate to the novel, or its progress, but there is so much a man with Martin’s experience could talk about to keep his fans content – comments on the creative process, musings on writing, talk about what novels he’s enjoying or stories from his career as an artist and the effect they’ve had on him as a writer.
Do we need to know that Martin wrote 700 words yesterday and then scrapped 589 of them today? Nope. But learning more about Martin as a writer and getting a peak behind the curtain at the creative process behind a future-classic could give readers more confidence that Martin is working on the project as hard as he can.
I doubt this article will change the opinions of those who have thrown heavy gauntlets into George’s face. Readers merely want the book in their hands and when it isn’t they get grouchy; many really don’t care about the why of it being late but rather that it is late. Each of us brings our own experiences and our own opinions to the fold and I’m not asking that my opinions be so readily incorporated as fact. My own opinions are, however, founded in the industry and the craft of writing and should at the very least be thought on.
After all, my conclusions have left me comfortable with George taking his time to make A Dance With Dragons the best book it can be.
Can you say the same?
The simple truth is: If you are unhappy with George, choose not to buy his books.
That is your right as a consumer just as it is his right to choose whether to write or not.
Speakman comes full circle here and brings us again to the subject of passion, albeit not directly. Martin has built something amazing, something to fall in love with, and, just like a scorned lover, those ‘fans’ of Martin’s work are feeling left out in the cold. Somewhere along the line, a certain (vocal) subset of Martin’s fans came under the impression that the author owes them something, that he has a responsibility towards them.
This is not true.
If someone loves the work of the author enough, should they not support them in its creation? We don’t know what Martin’s day-to-day routine is like, but I can only assume that he has much more invested in seeing A Song of Ice and Fire to completion than any fan does. It is his livelyhood and has been every single day for the past 13 years and beyond.
‘Rome was not built in a day’ and neither was The Lord of the Rings written overnight. In fact, Tolkien’s began his epic in the late 1937 and it did not see publication for another 17 years, in 1954. I’m certain that no one told Michelangelo to hurry up when he was painting the Sistine Chapel.
If you love the story, wait. I certainly haven’t wasted any time groaning about how long it has taken Martin to write A Dance of Dragons for one simple reason: there are hundreds of other novels out there and each one is worth your time.
I’ve only touched on a portion of Speakman’s article, but I highly suggest you read the whole thing. It’s well worth the time. Also worth the read are Adam’s thoughts over at The Wertzone which can be found HERE.