Pity him, pity him.
In his end-of-2015 wrap-up blog post, George R. R. Martin made a doom-wrought update on his progress on The Winds of Winter, book 6 in A Song of Ice and Fire. The news was not good.
To quote him:
Here it is, the first of January. The book is not done, not delivered. No words can change that. I tried, I promise you. I failed. I blew the Halloween deadline, and I’ve now blown the end of the year deadline. And that almost certainly means that no, THE WINDS OF WINTER will not be published before the sixth season of GAME OF THRONES premieres in April (mid April, we are now told, not early April, but those two weeks will not save me). Even as late as my birthday and our big Emmy win, I still thought I could do it… but the days and weeks flew by faster than the pile of pages grew, and (as I often do) I grew unhappy with some of the choices I’d made and began to revise… and suddenly it was October, and then November… and as the suspicion grew that I would not make it after all, a gloom set in, and I found myself struggling even more. The fewer the days, the greater the stress, and the slower the pace of my writing became.
This will not sit easy with the fanbase. The fans are growing restless – the dedicated ones particularly. They – we – see Season 6 approaching like a freight train, threatening to spoil these books that some of them have waited twenty years to read. There’s a lot of righteous anger. But still I say – pity him, pity him.
In 2007, GRRM sold the rights to A Song of Ice and Fire. He handed over the TV show reins to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It would be another several years before they could even put a pilot together, he knew. And 2007 was three years after the release of A Feast for Crows. A Dance With Dragons was progressing, and promised to be out sooner rather than later. With the show slated to hit the small screen around 2011, GRRM felt safe. He had a four-year buffer to get further along; even if the show did well and even if it got renewed for further seasons, it wouldn’t be until, oh, 2016 that he really had to worry. That gave him almost nine years to write three books.
It wasn’t enough.
A Dance With Dragons is, thus far, the ASOIAF book with the longest downtime. After insane perfectionist rewrites and edits, GRRM finally published the book in 2011. His lead was gone. Now he had five, maybe six years to finish two books. Having just taken six years to finish ADWD, you’d think he’d be a little more expedient, aware of the building pressure.
But he was not. The sudden, unexpected wave of celebrity from the show completely undermined GRRM’s writing pace for 2011 and 2012. Nobody was ready for Game of Thrones to get as big as it did, least of all GRRM. By the time he realized what had happened, it was far, far too late to save it.
When GRRM set out to write ASOIAF, he wanted to escape the constraints of the TV medium. He wanted to write budgetless and free; he wanted them to give him the reins and and just let him wander happily until his messy little fantasy series was completed.
What has happened here is nothing short of Greek tragedy. George R. R. Martin is in a prison, a hell of his own making – and he’s genre-savvy enough to know it. He’s a walking cautionary tale. Cyclically he suffers; he stresses about writing, so he doesn’t write as much, so he stresses about writing, so…
There’s no place for value judgments here. It would be a waste of time. As GRRM said in his blog post – “No one else is to blame.” GRRM is fully, keenly aware of what he’s done to himself. No amount of kvetching on our part is going to tell him anything he doesn’t know. And as Theon says at the end of Season 2, he’s “come too far to pretend to be anyone else.” GRRM has, like Theon, trapped himself in a mighty fortress with legions of wolves at the gates. Pity him, pity him.
The good news is that ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, none of this will’ve mattered. When someone in Space Barnes and Noble picks up the holobook of A Game of Thrones in the year 2072, they won’t know anything about the interminable wait, the slow-motion horror story, the nightmare prison that George R. R. Martin built for himself. They will just know a good book when they see it. And it will be a good book, I’m sure. Those insane perfectionist rewrites for ADWD gave us an incredible book, a rich and powerful story with more layers than a thousand clones of Shrek.
There is light. But GRRM is still in his tunnel, the one he built when he wasn’t looking. All we can do is wait.