Dear George R.R. Martin
Hey readers. I avoided any explicit spoilers for the books, but there may be some unwanted hints. Bear that in mind when deciding whether or not to read this.
Dear George R.R. Martin,
I wanted to start out by saying thank you. Your Song of Ice and Fire books make up one of the best fantasy series ever written, with compelling characters, a plot with the complexity and richness of actual history, and a setting worth falling in love with. In fact, thanks to last year's publication of The World of Ice and Fire, I now know more about the history of Westoros than I know about the history of any other country ... including the one I live in.
I appreciate that developing a rich history, believable setting, and the many intricacies of your story is a major endeavor. I also know that you resent constant pressure from fans to get your next ASoIaF book rushed to publication; I'm sure these fans range from well-meaning to caustic, but whatever their tone, I know you don't want to feel enslaved to your own success.
From what I can tell, you (like many writers I know) can reach a point where your anxiety locks down your creativity. More pressure does not mean more productivity. In fact, the astounding success of the Game of Thrones TV show and the subsequent boost in popularity for your books may be adding an unproductive amount of pressure before we even tally in your fans nagging you.
I also know that you've set goals for yourself. I understand that you've turned down a few projects so you can try to get a finished version of The Winds of Winter ready by the end of 2016. Whether or not readers get to see it in 2016, your goal is great, and I'm looking forward to reading your work. (So much, in fact, that I've spent a great deal of time coming up with my own theories for what will happen.)
Plus, you have your own creative process. You work on a variety of projects, and I imagine that keeps you feeling creatively charged for each story you write. Of course you don't want the popularity of A Song of Ice and Fire to prevent you from working on other projects. Of course you want to stick to your established process.
So I just wanted to start out by saying ... you know, I get it.
With all that said, I also feel like there's room to talk about the obvious issue. There are millions of fans eagerly waiting for you to finish your series. Looking at your first-day sales for A Dance with Dragons, it's apparent that you've got over 300,000 of us waiting on the edge of our seats—eager as a Greyjoy to get our hands on the next book. (And by the Drowned God, we'd be glad to pay the iron price.) And that 300,000 is a low estimate of your diehard fans: A Dance with Dragons was released before the TV show picked up speed and brought what I can only assume is a massive influx of fans to the series.
It's easy to think of fans and sales and viewers as just numbers. My own success is obviously just a fraction of yours, but when I have an article shared 3,000 times on Facebook, I try to keep in mind that there were actually that many people reading and responding to my work. I try to remember that it would take over two hours to say all of their names. I try to recall that, if gathered together, these people could form a small town.
So what about 300,000? It would take over 10 days to say all of their names. If the fans who bought A Dance with Dragons so eagerly on that first day all gathered together, they could form the 64th largest city in the U.S. Each one of these people has a rich experience in the world of Westoros, but are now left ... wanting.
Again, your books are great! Perhaps the weightiest reason they're so excellent is that you've set up a compelling story. Everyone is eager to know what happens when Dany finally gets to Westoros. And after ADwD, we all need to know what happens to Jon Snow! Your work is tantalizing and pleasurable, like foreplay, but you're never bringing us to climax. You've given hundreds of thousands of readers the literary equivalent of blue balls. I hate to say it, George, but you've become the world's most notorious tease.
Can you blame us? It's been almost twenty years since A Game of Thrones was published. You told us there would only be a short break between A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, but it wound up being six years instead of one. And then you ended A Dance with Dragons with multiple, massive cliffhangers.
And now, thanks to the HBO show, we're going to get to the end of the story on TV before we get to it in the books. I'm sure there will be differences and nuances in the book version; I'm sure different characters will be left standing; I'm sure you'll make it worth our while. But, at least for me, it's so much cooler to get the experiences in the book before getting them in the show—and unless you manage to get A Dream of Spring out in the next two years or so, that won't be an option for the conclusion of your series.
I really do understand that you have your process and want to stick with it, but ...
Maybe your process isn't working that well.
I mean, it's taking you an average of about four years per book, and doesn't that say something about the effectiveness of the writing process? And ... with no offense intended ... A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons are, according to the bulk of reviews, substantially weaker than the books that preceded them.
Feast and Dance both have some issues with bloating. You introduce disposable characters in each, spending large chunks of each novel focusing on a side-plot that doesn't end up mattering. If you're going where I think you're going with Aegon and the Mummer's Dragon, then we spent even more time on unimportant side-plots. Even when focusing on main characters, it largely feels like we're burning time rather than building to something.
I know you're a discovery writer rather than a planner, and that's fine. I know that just saying "it felt like you were treading water in the last two books" isn't going to help you swim. I know that rushing things probably won't help. I'm just saying that defending your writing process would be easier if that process, and the five or six years it took to complete each of your last two books, wound up producing your best work.
It only took you two years from the publication of A Clash of Kings to put out A Storm of Swords, the most popular book in the series. Now, I have no idea what you were doing differently. I don't know why you were able to produce better work more quickly. But maybe, just maybe, the shorter timeline and higher quality go hand in hand. Maybe focusing in on something and getting it done in a shorter timeline helps keep creative juices flowing more consistently. Maybe that consistent work helps you keep a better sense of the story's vision.
I'm not trying to say you shouldn't work on anything else, but maybe some of the time spent on other projects would be better spent on the final two books of A Song of Ice and Fire. In the last week alone, you've posted more than 2000 words to your blog. You write scripts for the TV Show, you help edit and compile other books, and you publish massive history volumes about the world of Westoros and Essos ... and while some of that work may be entirely worthwhile, I would argue that not all of it is.
You're a great writer. In fact, I recently wrote an article about all the things A Song of Ice and Fire has taught me about storytelling. I respect your process, and I completely understand that you don't want to be enslaved by your success. I don't want to be just one more nagging voice in the cacophony of pressuring, entitled fans, but what else are we supposed to do? I'm asking seriously. Tell us, George: What can we, as your fans, do to help make this story happen?
As you move forward, know that we're behind you. We're attentively waiting for the rest of the tale. And we don't think you're our slave, but we do believe you've made us a promise: Every storyteller is responsible for finishing the stories they begin. It's a promise we're eager to see fulfilled, and we'd be glad to help however we can.
Gratefully, your less-than-entirely-humble reader,
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