There have been a lot of stories kicking about over the past few days about George RR Martin’s announcement he won’t get the next installment of A Song of Ice and Fire done before the sixth series of Game of Thrones airs on TV. In May last year he thought he could do it, but things happened, life got in the way, and he didn’t make the deadline.
I have to say, I feel his pain. Well, probably not his exact pain. Sure, over the past five years, people have asked me when the 12 books I drafted in 2011 are going to see the light of day. And yeah, during that time, my response has been downgraded from ‘pretty soon, I’m going to self publish them all!’ to ‘oh god, half of these are completely not worth it and the other half need work that will take years and probably also are not worth it.’ But any writing deadlines I have are pretty much arbitrary and set by me. I haven’t spent the past five years with millions of fans yammering on about how I need to get a series done before I die.
One of the pieces about George’s announcement linked to this blog post by Neil Gaiman, in which he gently points out to a fan that writers are not machines, and that sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do – the story doesn’t come. It’s a good post, not just for self-entitled fans to read but for writers and those aspiring to write. In it, Gaiman describes a missed deadline as follows:
First time in 25 years I’ve sighed and said, “I can’t do this, and you won’t get your story.” It was already late, I was under a bunch of deadline pressure, my father died, and suddenly the story, too, was dead on the page. I liked the voice it was in, but it wasn’t working, and eventually, rather than drive the editors and publishers mad waiting for a story that wasn’t going to come, I gave up on it and apologised, worried that I could no longer write fiction.
For his part, George RR Martin wrote on his blog on Saturday,
“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.”
I read both of these pieces this morning. This is relevant because yesterday I sat down and tried to plan for my new year in writing (using this handy roadmap from urbanwritersretreat.co.uk).
In this plan, I somewhat ambitiously promised myself that in 2016 I will finish two of my books in progress, find beta readers for both, read and incorporate their feedback as appropriate, polish each MS, and query some agents before the end of the year. I’ve also said I’ll try to improve my fiction writing CV by submitting more short stories.
I’ve broken this down into weekly and monthly goals, but I sort of know already that life will get in the way of them. Like George RR, I have lots of weddings to attend this year, like 2009 Neil Gaiman I’m concerned that my current work in progress isn’t really working. I revisited it this week for the first time since November, and found an alarmingly high volume of ‘echoing footsteps’. Because apparently I’m not a good enough writer to think of multiple ways to indicate an empty corridor.
It’s probably safe to say that in meeting my goals I won’t face the same obstacles as George. He is working on book 6 of a massively complicated series where he has to remember hundreds of characters (and whether he has killed them off yet). I’m working on a standalone, and the first of something that may become a trilogy.
My two books will maybe reach a combined word count of around 150,000 words, whilst the last in George’s series, A Dance With Dragons, was in the region of 422,000 words on its own. I don’t know how long Winds of Winter is going to be, but we can probably assume it won’t be succinct.
I don’t have millions of fans waiting for mine, or any publishers or TV execs. Just as yet un-recruited beta readers, and possibly some dutiful family members (love you guys).
Still, I think there is one thing George and I, and hundreds of other writers will have in common in 2016. This is the fact, boring but true, that we’re all just going to have to keep pushing through until we get to where we want to be.
Although for the love of marmalade, let’s not do it in the same way as this guy.