The INSIDER Summary:
• “A Song of Ice and Fire” author George R.R. Martin has been working on his next book for six years.
• We spoke with his friends and co-authors Elio García and Linda Antonsson about the delay.
• The possible reasons include his “gardening” writing style and the influence of “Game of Thrones.”
George R.R. Martin is more than just the brain behind “Game of Thrones.” He’s also an editor, a former TV writer, and a novelist whose depth of efforts when it comes to foreshadowing and character development is unparalleled in modern writing.
But Martin is also an author who writes at his own pace and has a self-admitted history of issues with deadlines. Fans of his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series have been waiting since July 2011 for the next book in his series, and the question on the minds of many increasingly impatient readers is simple: What’s taking so long?
INSIDER reached out to two people who know both Martin and his work very well to try and answer that question and to better understand Martin’s writing style and behaviours.
García and Linda Antonsson co-authored a gigantic book with Martin called “A World of Ice and Fire” (published in 2014). The volume is a sort of encyclopedia and history book for the universe occupied in Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.
Elio and Linda first got in touch with Martin in the late ’90s, after they became enamoured with his work and wanted to create an online game based on the world of “A Song of Ice and Fire.” From there, Martin and the two fans communicated somewhat regularly about his book series set in Westeros.
Eventually Elio and Linda became more than just fans — by 2004 Martin trusted their knowledge of the series enough that he invited them to help co-author “A World of Ice and Fire.” In the decades since they first contacted him, Elio and Linda have developed an intimate understanding of Martin’s writings and his personal approach to these projects.
Martin’s “gardening style” of writing
Looking back at how Martin has explained his writing process in the past can help us understand what might be happening with “The Winds of Winter.”
“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners,” Martin said in a 2011 interview with The Guardian. “The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up.”
J.K. Rowling is a good example of an “architect” writer. She spent at least three years outlining the main plot trajectory for all seven “Harry Potter” books before she began writing 1997’s “The Sorcerer’s Stone.”
Martin, on the other hand, is a gardener.
“The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it,” he told the Guardian. “They kind of know what seed it is, they know if [they] planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.”
This creative process means it can take longer to flesh out Martin’s novels, some of which reach around 1,500 pages in length.
Outlining hinders progress
This style of avoiding outlines isn’t just a preference for Martin, it’s at the heart of how his characters come to life. If he does outline a story, then he can sometimes lose all motivation for fleshing it out into a full novel.
When he submitted the original proposal for the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books, Martin made his process clear.
“As you know, I don’t outline my novels,” Martin wrote to his publisher in 1993. “I find that if I know exactly where a book is going, I lose all interest in writing it. I do, however, have some strong notions as to the overall structure of the story I’m telling, and the eventual fate of many of the principle characters in the drama.”
During our conversation with Elio and Linda, this strategy came up again.
“He feels that once he has outlined it, once he has explored all the details of the story, all the beats of the story, he can’t go back and revisit it,” Linda told INSIDER. “He can do general notes about characters […] But once he goes and puts it all into a cohesive story, then he says ‘I’ve done it, I can’t revisit it because I’m going to be bored.’ He experiences the story as he writes it and he wants to be able to surprise himself to some extent or get new ideas along the way.”
Martin’s gardening technique has led to writing at least one major complication in the past, which meant delayed publishing time for his fifth book, “A Dance With Dragons.” Martin nicknamed the plot trouble “The Meereenese Knot” and said that a convergence of characters had led to a tangle of storylines he struggled with resolving.
Redditor BryndenBFish (one of the moderators of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” subreddit) compiled a thorough analysis of “The Meereenese Knot.” The compilation of Martin’s comments make it clear that a lack of outlining meant more time spent writing and rewriting chapters multiple times before he figured out a way to move all the narratives forward in the timeline.
The “Game of Thrones” factor
Martin’s “gardening” could be partially responsible for “The Winds of Winter” writing time, but we don’t believe it explains everything. There is also the HBO adaptation to consider. “Game of Thrones” premiered in April 2011 — three months before the last book, “A Dance with Dragons,” came out. So in the entire time that “Game of Thrones” has been on air, Martin has yet to complete his next book.
This is understandable given the complete 180º turn in Martin’s day-to-day experience. “Game of Thrones” brought an unprecedented level of attention and success to his writing, and he became far busier than he was when previously trying to write installments for “A Song of Ice and Fire.”
“As the books have become increasingly complicated, there have [also] been increasing demands on his time,” Linda said. “With the attention from ‘Game of Thrones’ publicity [and] all these other things, it’s certainly true that he has a lot of irons in the fire.”
Though Elio and Linda have no connection to HBO or “Game of Thrones,” they offered up some outside opinions on how Martin’s relationship between his book and the TV show may have changed over the course of the last six years.
Elio told INSIDER that the last time Martin probably met with one or more of the “Game of Thrones” writers — David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Bryan Cogman — was around season four. “[They] basically got his outline for the main beats for the major characters up until the end,” Elio said.
The use of the word “outline” piqued our interest, so we asked Elio and Linda if they thought Martin might be wary of outlining too much. What if his interest wanes because he’ll know where the story is going, therefore ruining his preferred “gardening” style?
“Maybe he’s being careful about involving himself so that it doesn’t kill any ideas in his story,” Linda said.
Martin seems to have become distanced from “Game of Thrones” in the last two years. For the first four seasons, Martin wrote one episode for each season. But in May 2015, Martin said he was abstaining from script writing in order to focus on “The Winds of Winter.”
“Writing a script takes me three weeks, minimum, and longer when it is not a straight adaptation from the novels,” Martin wrote on his blog. “Writing a season six script would cost me a month’s work on WINDS, and maybe as much as six weeks, and I cannot afford that. With David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Bryan Cogman on board, the script writing chores for season six should be well covered. My energies are best devoted to WINDS.”
Since he’s no longer writing scripts for “Game of Thrones,” and the showrunners may already have all the information they need to complete the series in their own way, it’s unclear how involved Martin is with the show now.
But there’s no doubt that the show’s presence has forever changed “A Song of Ice and Fire.” It now looks inevitable that “Game of Thrones” will come to an end — revealing Martin’s planned conclusion for the series — before fans will have a chance to read it in Martin’s own words.
“He’s very happy with the show and the showrunners and the popularity it has brought to the series,” Linda said. “He loves the people who work on it, he really admires it […] At the same time I think there’s a little bit of ‘woulda coulda.’ Like if [HBO] just took a bit longer with this maybe he could have caught up.”
The show’s plot went beyond the story told in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books when season six aired in 2016.
Martin last updated fans in January 2017, saying he believed “The Winds of Winter” could be published within the year. With season seven of “Game of Thrones” set to air this summer, it means book readers will likely have even more events spoiled for them (assuming “The Winds of Winter” isn’t published before then).
Elio and Linda agree that this is a highly unusual situation with no clear solution. We can speculate all we want, and fans can look for places or people to blame for the lengthy wait, but the only person who knows and understands the full scope of what’s happening is Martin.
“At the end of the day it’s a deal he made and he respects that,” Linda said. “Basically all he can really do is just put his head down and write and then it’s done when it’s done.”
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