George R. R. Martin Finally Admits the Pressure Gets to Him; Talks His Writing Process, Ethics, and HBO's 'Game of Thrones'
In a new interview that takes place at one of George R. R. Martin’s many book-writing diversions (I kid, I kid) — the Jean Cocteau Cinema — the Song of Ice and Fire author spoke about fan and HBO pressure to finish his books. In the past, Martin has waved off those worries and originally, when he envisioned the series as a trilogy, GRRM believed each book would take about a year to write. Turns out neither the sentiment nor the estimate was entirely accurate.
On His Early Thoughts about the Series:
“Yes, I was young and foolish in those days…I actually didn’t know how many books, or whether there would be any books when I started writing it — I guess — maybe it’s a short story, maybe it’s a novella. At a certain point I decided it was a novel and then pretty clearly jumped to trilogy, because I knew it was an epic fantasy. In those days, in the early 90s, the general form of epic fantasies was trilogies.”
On Fans “Clamoring for the Next Installment (Do you feel an obligation to them?):
“Obligation is an odd word. I don’t know I would go with that word. I certainly feel a desire to finish the book. Um…and it must be said that while I do get a lot of emails and mail of the type you’re describing, there are also many, many that are supportive, and probably far more of people saying ‘Take your time, I love your books, whenever you’re ready I’ll be here.’ Of course which is an attitude that I find far more pleasant than the ‘When will it be done?’ I’ve actually given up answering the question ‘When will it be done?’ In the early days, especially after the third book, because the fourth book took a really long time, and I kept being wrong. People said when will it be done, and I would give an answer and it would not be done by then, I would run into some problem, or decide to rewrite, or I would change course. And once you give a date and then you miss that date, that’s like there’s an element of the audience that thinks you’re doing it deliberately. There are even some strange conspiracy theorists out there who are convinced that I finished the whole thing years ago but I’m just hiding the books in my cellar and releasing them in order to maximize something or other. There’s a lot of craziness that goes on, but it’s pressure, and the obligation is to the work itself.”
On Whether That Pressure Gets under His Skin, Rattle Him or Make It Harder to Sit Down and Write:
“Yeah, to some extent it does. But, when the writing is going well it doesn’t matter. You know, when I’m there and working, I just kind of fall through my computer screen and I forget the world, I forget deadlines, I forget the TV show, and the emails, and all of that stuff. It’s just me and the characters and the world that I’m describing, and I’m writing a page at a time, and a scene at a time, and a word at a time.
On How Martin Keeps Track of the Myriad Characters:
“I do have notecards, and uh…well, not notecards, but I do have computer files and I have geneologies and charts and things like that. And I have some pieces of paper on which I scrawled. But less than you would think. Most of it is in my mind. I often say that it’s probably some strange sort of mental illness or something that I’ve…I’m using the synapses in my brain that most people use for remembering real people to remember all these characters. It’s like, I meet real people and I forget their names two minutes after I meet them. it’s in one ear and out the other…I can remember these characters that I introduced for one scene ten years ago in book 2, or something like that. You know who they are and what they look like; that’s stuff in my brain, so that surely is a sign that I’m deranged, but uh, hopefully it’s a good sort of derangement that allows me to write these books.”
On His Characters’ Ethics (Do ethics intrigue him?):
“Yes. Ethics, morality, the whole pressure of right and wrong…you know, heroism and villainy; these are all issues. I mean, I’ve always taken as my writing mantra, what William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, where he said ‘The only thing worth writing about is the human heart and conflict with the self,’ and I believe that. And that’s what you see in Game of Thrones, and hopefully in many of my other earlier works as well.”
On Wishing He Could Write All the HBO Game of Thrones Series Episodes:
“I wish I could write more of them. We do ten episodes a season and I write one usually. But if I wasn’t writing the books I would be hopefully a bigger part of the show, and I could write two episodes, maybe three episodes a season, that would be fun. I can wish for it, but it’s not going to happen, I still have two enormous books to write. I have The Winds of Winter that I’m working on right now, and that’s going to be another monster, and then when i finish that I have the last book, A Dream of Spring, which is gonna be another 1500 page monster where I try to wrap this up. These books take me a long long time to do, so even just writing one episode per season is growing increasingly hard. You have to put the book aside, and sort of go back in time to things you wrote two or three or five or seven years ago and do new versions of them, it breaks the stride a little. I wish I could be more involved in the show, I wish I could be over there in Belfast on the set, I wish I could be taking part in all of the auditions and the casting sessions, seeing the dailies, and working on it the way I worked on TV shows like Beauty and the Beast and The Twilight Zone when I was more active in television, but the truth is I can’t.
On Being a Celebrity:
“I’ve always been a successful writer, but what the show has done is made me a celebrity writer, and that’s different. That’s…I had not anticipated that. And yes, I have now reached the point where I am recognized everywhere I go, I can’t go to an airport without stopping for five photographs or signing peoples’ napkins, and occasionally one of them actually has one of the books..People come up to you and they’re nice, but sometimes it gets a little tiring, there’s so many of them. I just keep telling myself it won’t be forever. This is my fifteen minutes of fame, right? And you know, five years from now, there’ll be some other show on television, and Game of Thrones will be thought of — hopefully — fondly, as like uh, N.Y.P.D. Blue, Hill Street Blues or you know, one of the great shows in television history…but it won’t be on, there’ll be some new hottest show, and I can go back to just being a writer and not a celebrity.
Watch the full interview: