BrooksBlog: I Do Not Envy George R. R. Martin
This might seem odd. After all, he has an incredible following for his Song of Ice and Fire series, and the first book in that series, A Game of Thrones, is a new series on HBO. Why shouldn’t I envy him?
Mostly because of an article that appeared in the April 11 edition of the New Yorker magazine which was titled “Just Write It!” Guess what it was about? About George not having published anything more on Song of Ice and Fire series since 2005. Even with all the good things happening, he has a sizable percentage of his hardcore fans enraged over his failure to follow through on getting to the end of the series. Sound familiar. Robert Jordan?
The problem is that when you begin a big series with multiple plotlines and characters, all of which a writer is asking readers to become invested in, you are entering into an implied contract to write and produce in a timely manner the books that will fulfill your obligation. The question that needs to be asked – the one I asked myself right away, as a writer who asks this support almost constantly – is, “What is the nature of that obligation?” What does a writer actually owe his or her readers by undertaking a huge multi-book commitment? What do the fans/readers have a right to expect from that writer as a result.
It may surprise you to learn what I think about this. I have preached consistently that writing one book a year is mandatory in my world. I can do it, I expect to do it, and I have no real excuse for not doing it if I am healthy. Five or six years with no book? Unthinkable!
But that’s me, and other authors – particularly George – are not me. Reading the article about him, I was struck with how not like me he is. Not like me in almost every conceivable way. Except one. A way that defines all of us who are writers. We all have the same goal when we are writing a book. We want to give you our best effort. We want you to like what we do and we do not want to disappoint you by writing something that isn’t our best effort. I’ve got thirty-five years and thirty-five books, and I have spent time with dozens of authors talking about this. Everyone does the best they can and tries as hard as they can. No one wants to keep you waiting. But no one wants to give you a half-baked book, either.
What we all owe you, at the end of the day, is our best story. How we accomplish this isn’t the same for everyone. Not even close. What I can do in one year, another author can do in ten. Or five or whatever. Many writers can do 2 or 3 books a year. This writing exercise isn’t a tangible, measurable, one-fits-all sort of thing. So I think you can’t start attacking an author if a book doesn’t get finished as quickly as you would like. You can’t lay those expectations on any author. Even if he or she leads you to believe he will have a book done, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. What you can expect and have a right to expect is a good result. But you can’t start expanding your demands as readers beyond that.
So, sure, I wish Robert Jordan hadn’t died with his series unfinished. I wish George would write faster and publish more regularly. I wish all the authors I read would do nothing but sit down and write the books I want to read. But that isn’t how it works.
And we have to let go of that very unreasonable expectation and just hope that the book we get – whenever we get it – will be wonderful.