In April 2011, in conjuction with the premiere of HBO's then-risky-seeming series Game of Thrones, the New Yorker did a New Yorker–sized profile on George R.R. Martin called "Just Write It!" The author's New Jersey origins and latter-day habitat—Westeros and the lands of A Song of Ice and Fire—were discussed, but a noteworthy portion of the piece went to the GRRM haters.
A well-trafficked forum called Is Winter Coming? exists to disparage and denounce Martin for his long gaps between series installments; it's a popular, hyper-demanding complaint. At its core is the fear that Martin, 67, will die or quit before finishing a tale that's already taken readers on a 4,000-page journey.
The interim since Book Five, A Dance with Dragons, hits the five-year mark this July. That will equal the furthest stretch between novels, the 2000-2005 gap from A Storm of Swords to A Feast for Crows. Dance came at the end of Game of Thrones' first season; since then, four seasons have come and gone, barreling all the way to the brink of several key cliffhangers at the last book's end.
On the second day of 2016, Martin took to his LiveJournal to officially announce that The Winds of Winter will not be published before the show's sixth arc starts up this April. The show born from a saga that started 15 years beforehand will now eclipse the source material, forging its own ending and terrifying spoiler-phobic readers everywhere. Publishing Winds this spring was almost certainly Martin's final chance to keep up, and it's been extinguished.
Martin shared several New Year's blog posts breaking down the "best of times" portions of his 2015. The "personal 'worst of times'" fell, sadly, to his writing:
"THE WINDS OF WINTER is not finished.
Believe me, it gave me no pleasure to type those words. You're disappointed, and you're not alone. My editors and publishers are disappointed, HBO is disappointed, my agents and foreign publishers and translators are disappointed... but no one could possibly be more disappointed than me. For months now I have wanted nothing so much as to be able to say, 'I have completed and delivered THE WINDS OF WINTER' on or before the last day of 2015.
But the book's not done."
Martin is bleedingly transparent here; the post leads with a "mood" module, which he's set to "depressed." Hundreds more pages are unwritten. "I always do a lot of rewriting," he says, "sometimes just polishing, sometimes pretty major restructures." In other words, he makes books. It's crass to imagine Martin just needs to write the (probably frustratingly opaque) epilogue to Winds and move on to follow-up A Dream of Spring, that it's simply a question of speed or work ethic. (Martin has a lot of side hustles, including developing projects for HBO, writing the occasional Game of Thrones episode and blogging at length about all sorts of shit.)
Martin talks about writing slower and with worse results than he'd like. Again, in other words, he's making something out of thin air, a task that's not easy even without the burden of expectation or the fullness of a successful, sought-after author's life. It's hard to fathom the pressure this man feels; the absence of joy and the weight of apology in his latest update, though, are painfully clear:
"You can blame my travels or my blog posts or the distractions of other projects and the Cocteau and whatever, but maybe all that had an impact... you can blame my age, and maybe that had an impact too...but if truth be told, sometimes the writing goes well and sometimes it doesn't, and that was true for me even when I was in my 20s. And as spring turned to summer, I was having more bad days than good ones. Around about August, I had to face facts: I was not going to be done Halloween by [his original 2015 deadline]. I cannot tell you how deeply that realization depressed me."
“You can blame my age, and maybe that had an impact too...but if truth be told, sometimes the writing goes well and sometimes it doesn't, and that was true for me even when I was in my 20s.”
Martin has created a multi-continent world populated by as many named characters as there are people in Liechtenstein. (And he describes, in detail, what every single one of them wears and eats.) None of it has made him superhuman. He still struggles with, and despises, deadlines. He's published a fat catalog of novels and short stories—and edited numerous collections—but still doesn't play nice with calendrical pressure.
He blogs fondly of penning his early novels with "no contracts, no deadlines, no one waiting," admitting that that's his comfort zone, his happiest place to produce what's likely to be his best work. As 2015 wore on, he shares...
"...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."
He admits that "there are no excuses," that "no one else is to blame." The typically loquacious man is devastating in to-the-point sentiments like, "I tried, I promise you. I failed."
Where does this leave us? George R.R. Martin's not setting any more deadlines, at least for The Winds of Winter. He encourages us to have fun with the show and, if we like, to revisit the books. (The conclusion gets directly into the parallels and divergences between Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire and the many ways they will certainly differ in their roads to the end.) "Meanwhile," he concludes, "I'll keep writing. Chapter at a time. Page at a time. Word at a time. That's all I know how to do." It's past time we stop bullying someone who's given us so much. He wants to know how it ends worse than we ever will.