George R. R. Martin has posted an update on the completion status of The Winds of Winter, the awaited sixth book in his Song of Ice and Fire series, announcing that he has not yet completed the manuscript. With the sixth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones set to debut in mid-April 2016, this means that the television show will officially exceed the progress of the book in regards to the series’ overall storyline.
Martin’s update is notable in a number of ways. For the past two years, the author has been consistently silent on his progress on the book series, cognizant that any update would generate more questions from supportive fans and more criticism from detractors, neither of which would satisfy demand for the book itself. (Martin arguably receives enough of this already. Deadspin’s recent December 29th missive “GRRM Has No Pages,” although clearly intended as a joke, is only the latest in a series of frustrated ventings.) The author’s January 2nd update breaks that silence, offering an informative reply to the expectations of the reading and viewing public.
[…] with season 6 of GAME OF THRONES approaching, and so many requests for information boiling up, I am going to break my own rules and say a little more, since it would appear that hundreds of my readers, maybe thousands or tens of thousands, are very concerned about this question of ‘spoilers” and the show catching up, revealing things not yet revealed in the books, etc.
Martin’s update is also an exceptionally bleak piece of personal writing, detailing the process that has twisted his writing days from a joyous personal expression into stress-filled Sisyphean slogs.
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.
But I won’t make excuses. There are no excuses. No one else is to blame. Not my editors and publishers, not HBO, not David & Dan. It’s on me. I tried, and I am still trying.
Any journalist, hobbyist, author, NaNoWriMo-er, or college student will tell you that writing something that is coherent and engaging takes a lot of forethought, focus, and hard work. And for those who write as a profession, such as Martin, these words are subject to additional outside scrutiny. Regardless of whether a piece of writing is an argument or a fantasy story, it must hold up within the minds of a wide variety of readers. Think of the last college paper, the last fanfic installment, the last novel you wrote. Now think about how much work you had to put into it before you were happy enough to let it out into the world.
Martin’s update—“I’m trying”—succinctly communicates the difficulty of this work from his end, and adds key emotional context to the other activities that the author undertakes outside of his writing on A Song of Ice and Fire. By detailing the difficult writing process for The Winds of Winter, Martin is also notably detailing how he sustains that writing process. As the author, Martin clearly knows best how to stay excited about writing A Song of Ice and Fire, and subsequently how to get the best writing out of himself. And as he details in his January 2nd update, this isn’t by chaining himself to rapid three-month deadlines, as the stress that this induces actually diminishes the quality output of his fiction. From this perspective, Martin’s additional outlets of expression: Managing the Cocteau Theater in Santa Fe, editing anthologies, and developing new shows, aren’t a way for him to shirk his duties writing The Winds of Winter. They are, in fact, necessary in alleviating the stress from his writing process. Detractors yelling for Martin to “get back to work” and stop spending his time on other activities miss that A Song of Ice and Fire most likely doesn’t get written at all without these activities.
For those who would make light of the stress apparent in Martin’s update on The Winds of Winter, the author points out that he is in a historically unique position:
The case of GAME OF THRONES and A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is perhaps unique. I can’t think of any other instance where the movie or TV show came out as the source material was still being written.
While this isn’t necessarily true in the context of media throughout history, it is unique in regards to the genre of epic fantasy. It has only been in the past 10 years that it has been possible to adapt widescreen epic fantasy into yearly serialized seasons of television, and the scheduling conflict between Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire is undoubtedly a growing pain of television’s new capability to adapt epic fantasy.
This situation stands as a cautionary tale to other possible fantasy television adaptations, but it also comprises a fascinating and unique moment for readers of epic fantasy. For perhaps the first time ever, fans of a fantasy book series will get TWO endings to their beloved saga. HBO’s conclusion to Game of Thrones will undoubtedly be satisfying in regards to knowing the answer to larger questions, but only Martin’s written conclusion has the capability of being detailed, vast, and truly epic.
I personally would prefer to read the book before seeing the show, but I nonetheless find the show outrunning the books to be a delightfully weird situation; one appropriate to the time-and-world-bending fiction which I adore. I don’t envy the showrunners for having to write an end to their favorite series, but the very nature of adaptations means that this will only be one version of the ending. The story doesn’t end when the TV show does.
Martin’s update also doesn’t rule out the possibility of The Winds of Winter being published later in 2016. By the end of this new year, it is possible that fans of this epic series may have both the book and the TV season in hand.
Art of “Mercy,” a chapter from The Winds of Winter, from A Song of Ice and Fire 2016 calendar, illustrated by Magali Villeneuve