BrooksBlog: I Do Not Envy George R. R. Martin

I do not envy George 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.


37 responses to “BrooksBlog: I Do Not Envy George R. R. Martin”

  1. Thanks, Terry – I just finished that article about Martin last evening, and was hoping you’d read it and would respond. Your last 2 sentences say all that need be said.

  2. Thanks for the blog post! Recently, I’ve been frustrated with another author for this very issue. Something I’ve always appreciated about your Shannara books (which I’ve been reading off and on since 1995) is that the stories are grouped into trilogies (or foursomes) that are able to stand alone while relating back to the overarching Shannara history. This makes it easy for the reader –he/she can commit to 3 or 4 books and have the main story arc resolved within those volumes. However, for those of us who appreciate a story with a larger scope, there is that feeling as well. Very clever, Terry!

  3. Perhaps Mr. Martin may be disappointing his readers with his lack of productivity, but he may be pleasing fantasy fans of other media.. And possibly his bankers! He may be failing those that want resolution to characters and plot threads, but he has succeeded getting his stories onto the screen. That could be where his priorities lay as a professional.

  4. I agree completely, I just started the Wheel of time an I think I’m going to wait on song of ice and fire. All said though I think an example of an author taking a long time and than have the book disappoint is the third book in the Eragon series. Instead of finishing the trilogy like was stated he stretched the book to make a fourth book needed. The story ended up lacking any real substances. It also ended up feeling like he was scared to finish the series, my guess is because he doesn’t have another story idea, or any idea viable for writing and publishing yet, much like Rowling.

    • the 3rd book in the Eragon series wasnt bad i thought it was great but you do have a point on the waiting but hes also a new writer and is writing very well for his age and he also told you in the 3rd book he was sorry for not ending it there because there was so much information that could make a 4th book and hes giving you more details into the relationships of every character in the series which some authors dont so if you dont like how he writes or him just dont read his books and dont talk bad about him because he wants to make the series longer

      • I actually had a discussion with a friend of mine the other day on this topic, about authors like Robert Jordan or even George Martin where they start a series that they say will end in a trilogy but over the course of writing the story they realize that the story is too long to be contained well in only 3 volumes.

        I personally love those authors for that, for realizing that their story is too big for the length they wanted it to be and instead of just hacking the story to pieces to make it all fit and running the risk of ruining the story decide to make more books. Wheel of Time being the biggest example, it was suppose to end by book 3 Dragon Reborn, but kept going and now we are about to have book 14. Thank goodness Robert Jordan left a lot of notes for another writer/author to finish his work and someone who also understands his work enough to finish it well.

    • Also… Rowling had planned Potter as 7 books from the start. She knew where the story was headed all the while, turned out fairly well as far as I’m concerned.

  5. I have to agree with feeling left hanging for an author to continue or finish a series. Katherine Kurtz comes to mind for me. Her last Deryni series has been left hanging for around a decade. I have always appreciated Terry Brooks’ drive to produce as well.

    I wonder if Terry would takcle younger years for Allanon in a series?

    V/R,
    Robert J. Dudas

  6. I appreciate your comments on this subject. As a faithful reader of both your work and Martin’s, I love that your novels are timely and the writing is rich. We still wait for Martin’s but we always know that with his novels also we will get a story full of detail and planning and plotting. When I sit down to draw a portrait it takes me a couple of days of drawing here and there, while others can whip one out within a few hours. It all depends on each individual’s style and comfort. Writing is an art that cannot be produced on demand at all times.

    I love that Martin has had his debut to television, and hope to see some Shannaras on the big screen in the future!

  7. The one thing you have to give Robert credit for though is having the foresight to get all his notes written down & passed on so that at least someone could try to follow in his footsteps & complete what he started. I think Brandon has done an admirable job. Not perfect, but much better than just leaving us hanging or making something far from the original vision.

  8. Terry,

    I’m glad you are you and not George RR Martin also. I’m a huge fan of your stories, your style of writing and the fact that you get your books out each year makes me an even bigger fan.

    I would wait 5 years for your books, but I’m glad I don’t have to 🙂

  9. Ah, finally there are some voices of reason in the tension that has surrounded GRRM over the past few years. It gets tiring hearing people whine about how agonized and frustrated they are over the delay in story. Yes, George has been slow, but he has tried his best, eventually coming out the other side with a finished work. In the end, we are who we are and no one else, so we do what only we can do.

  10. Thank you for this humane and understanding post. You are right. Readers who want books that are more than “product” squeezed out mechanically by writers working to schedules beyond their ability must recognize that writers are not machines. What makes books worth reading comes from the humanity of the writer. No two are exactly the same.

  11. I like your style, Terry. You seem to never lack for an exciting plot and interesting characters. I’m sure with all the ideas in your brain you could do TWO BOOKS A YEAR!!!! Some authors, it seems, put out books too often…. sometimes before they have a good enough story. Robert Jordan’s “Wheel Of Time” series is one of those. I can’t imagine it being too hard to crank out novels, when half of it is describing your character’s clothing….. You never bore me with petty details like that, Thank You. Keep up the good work…. and two books a year isn’t too crazy of an idea, right?

  12. Well said Terry. I too have had the wish with George Martin to finish the next book, but I don’t go stir crazy with it. I find other things to occupy my time like other books like yours. Sometimes I’ll reread the same series while waiting to make sure I am up to date on where the story started and where is is currently before finding out where it is going.

    That is where I start to wonder what those who are loud in their anger are doing with their lives that these stories, these books are the things that occupy their lives so much that they just can’t conceive that an author might take their time, as you said try to give their readers a good story over just giving them a story.

    Thanks for the blogs by the way. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts on matters like this.

  13. My experience with The Wheel of Time has taught me to never start a series until it’s finished. While this has its benefits, it means I haven’t read any new Shannara since High Druid. Those beautiful English editions of Genesis and Legends are sitting on my bookshelf teasing me.

    • You can at least read the Genesis series. It wraps up another storyline and if Terry had never written another book after The Gypsy Morph you would have been fine. That’s the genius of Terry. 🙂 You’ll have to wait until August to start reading the Legends of Shannara duology though.

  14. Excellent post Terry. I am ahuge fan of yours and Mr. Martin’s; my two favorite authors. A big reason for that is that, like you say, you are both very different writers. I have just finished reading your entire library and, minor quibbles aside, I think it’s damn near flawless.
    I am again re-reading A song of Ice and Fire in anticipation of the July release of Dance with Dragons and I think his work is damn near flawless as well.
    I wonder if people can even comprehend how much goes into writing fantasy, whether it be your style or his. His books are filled with multitudes of characters and families and houses each with their own histories and such, very similar to Tolkien in so many ways. Let us never forget that the Lord of the Rings took Tolkien upwards of 10 to 15 years to complete.
    Authors like you have spoiled us Terry, with your book a year, and Authors of labyrinthine novels like Mr. Martin pay the price I guess.
    I have always wondered if you read martin’s books and the three times I’ve met you have almost wanted to ask but I always felt it would be bad form to attend one authors reading only to ask him about another… I could be wrong.
    Cheers…. Oh,and please write something about the time between the end of First King and beginning of Sword.. Even if it’s just in an email directly to me 🙂 Allanon’s formative Druid years are of great interest to many.

  15. Everyone here seems to be very coddiling of these writers who take long amounts of time to finish work that should be done by the appointed deadline. Rothfuss, Martin, i love their writing and their books are truly incredible. Im not really a Jordan fan but hey whatever. My point is this, what other job do you know of that an employee under contract could be months, evens years overdue on a project? Why are any of you defending this? Would your job allow this? Being under contract means you produce, and you produce in the alloted time, and you produce your best work within that alloted time because you agreed to do so when you first signed up. As a fan, i love reading the books that these authors put forth but i lose respect for them because for some reason they expect special exceptions for their job that very few jobs are afforded and they are granted such exceptions for resons unbeknownced to me. Stop feeding me dates then re-tracting, stop feeding me excuses about trying to ensure highest quality, instead, produce the highest quality and do it in the time you said you would. Thats just basic accountability and everyone who works for a living should be held to it.

  16. My biggest problem with Martin, and Jordan for that matter, is that they have no sense of conciseness. The Wheel of Time could easily have ended on book 3, and his ideas that went into the remaining books could easily have formed a new series (or three). For that matter, each individual book was way longer than it needed to be. There was a great story in there, but it was buried. I got as far as book 4 and called it quits; I still thought there was good stuff in there, but it wasn’t worth my time anymore. I would wait for GRRM to finish his series before even picking up the first one, but everyone tells me they get steadily worse as they go, and for a 5000+ page series, that doesn’t sound appealing.

    • Everyone is lying to you. The Martin series is getting better and better, Martin does not suffer from “conciseness” issues as Jordan did and if you’ve never read it how can you even say you have a “biggest problem with Martin”? Sheep mentality maybe?
      Personally if I wanted to read something I would, even if everyone told me they were getting worse. But hey, if your thing is letting others tell you what to read then by all means…

      • True enough, my “biggest problem” is only among the problems I have without even having read his work (sorry if you disagree, but I think there is enough evidence to say the series is not concise without reading it: the “stretching” from a planned 3 books to more than twice that, the literally dozens of major characters, the “splitting” of one book–the fourth–into two because it got too long to fit in one…); I might take greater issue with something else if I took the time to read it. As far as what people have told me about the series, I take it for what it is: their opinions, and yes, their opinions are valuable to me. That said, if I thought the series would be of interest to me, I would still read it, no matter what anyone said. It might not have been clear, but I did imply that I tend to be disinterested in long series *before they are finished,* or at least nearly finished, and given Martin’s publishing rate over the course of the series, that would make it at least ten more years before I, personally, would be interested in starting it. In the meantime, I’m happy to go off of what I know about it and what others care to tell me. Even at that, don’t take it as a judgment of the series itself; I would never pass judgment on any work of art until I experienced it myself. It’s just what I said it was: an issue I have with GRRM as a writer, and believe me, I’m not alone.

  17. Ive been reading Brooks novels since the late 70’s and I really appreciate that you bring back old friends like the Landover series. I like the last one so much I named my mystery chicken which just happens to lay green eggs, Mistaya.

    The Wheel of Times books were heart-breaking when I discovered Jordan had passed away, I had been in the process of re-reading them, and I stopped because I couldn’t deal with the unfinished ending. Glad was I when I discovered Sanderson had published his first book in the ending series. But still we have to wait 🙂

    Keep up the great work.

  18. I agree with you terry that I think when you are reading a series of books you should be intitled to get a least one book a year,I was a fan of Robert Jordan but I became frustrated waiting for his books to come out.In the end i think he took to much on and that’s why the series got bigger and bigger.Too many characters and sub-plots.That’s why Terry Brooks is the best you are going to get a book a year,not waiting too long or a series that just goe’s on and on with no conclusion.

  19. I agree with most of what you said Terry, except that GRRM wrote alot of stuff that was not book 5 of his series during those year. Sure, he can write whatever he wants, but as you pointed out there is a kond of a contract, and fans of GRRM felt like he didn’t care so much about what they were waiting on.

    In the end, the HBO series probably provides the contractural obligation necessary to finish the whole thing off without so many “distraction”…like the next Wild Cards book =)

    Terry, you set the bar hnigh with your book a year schedule that I really appreciate!

    • Like what? He wrote one short story during that time period. The rest of the time? He was writing Dance. As for the Wild Cards books, they don’t take up that much time. He’s merely an editor on them.

      • Wrong. He’s written several stories in the Wild Cards universe and has been an editor (as you mentioned) on many more. Truth be told his story is far more vast and complex than anything Terry Brooks has written, or anyone else writing fantasy today for that matter. It’s no surprise that it takes longer in between books, for heaven’s sake have you read them? Just keeping track of the primary and secondary characters could be a full time job let alone the tertiary and lesser ones.
        Just my opinion but sometimes greatness can’t be hurried. You get subpar product when you rush things and as much as all of GRRM fans wish he would write faster we would all MUCH rather he put out work that continues his standard of quality as opposed to rushing it out just to get a paycheck.

        • Yes, one Wild Cards story and one Dunk & Egg story since Feast was published. Not exactly a reason why Dance is late, as you were suggesting.

          I’ve studied the reasons behind why Dance is late. It all comes down to George wanting to write the best book possible and not half ass his way through what could be — and he knows this — the best fantasy series ever.

  20. Anyone been watching GoT on HBO? I hope somewhere terry Goodking is choking on what a faihtful adaptation should be.

    Hate to say this but Ice and Fire is better than any fantasy being written today, hands down. As far as depth, scope, etc. there is nothing that comes close. I love Terry Brooks’ stories but they’re nothing compared to what Martin is doing.

    Apples and oranges though, I love them both for very different reasons.

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