Procrastinators, boss-havers, degenerate undergraduates, lend me your ears. Have you ever added extra spaces on an essay to meet a minimum page requirement? Sneakily increased the font size on periods to pad your page count? Claimed to be working toward a deadline when you most definitely, assuredly were not?
If this sounds like you, then come sit by George R.R. Martin. Martin, you may remember, is suffering from the most public case of writer’s block in human history. He’s been writing The Winds of Winter, the highly-anticipated penultimate volume in his Game of Thrones series, since at least 2010—and lately, as if to make up for over a decade of missed deadlines, he’s speaking out on how the book is worth the wait (funny, I think I told my British Lit professor the same thing when I needed an extension). Last year, in a livestream arranged by his publisher, Martin claimed that The Winds of Winter is “about three-quarters of the way done,” although he’s hesitant to provide a release date for fear of disappointing his readers. He also revealed that this will be the longest Game of Thrones title yet, calling it “a monstrous book as big as a dragon.”
But can we believe Martin? After all, we’ve been deceived before, and the guy sure doesn’t like to be reminded of missed deadlines. “I’ve given up making predictions, because people press me and press me: ‘When is it going to be done?'” Martin said. “And I make what I think is the best case estimate, and then stuff happens. Then everybody gets mad that I ‘lied.’ I’ve never lied about these predictions. They’re the best I can make, but I guess I overestimate my ability to get stuff done, and I underestimate the amount of interruptions and other projects, other demands that will distract me.”
Now, reader, it’s my duty to inform you of Martin’s latest non-writing endeavor: buying a ticket to Barbie. It may very well be the only fit of procrastination I can forgive him for. On Monday morning, Martin posted a pinkified image of himself to social media, with the caption, “I went to see Barbie with my lovely wife; she said pink is my color. #imkenough” I have to say: with Martin’s pink bow and fuzzy flamingo scarf, she’s right! Martin looks downright jubilant. At the screening, did Martin’s fellow theatergoers shout, “Hi George!” at him? Or did they just heckle and ask for a Winds of Winter update? (I would’ve done both.)
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About all of this. Just how did Martin dig himself into this hole? Allow me to take you back in time, dear reader, on a journey through the ghosts of deadlines past. Our story begins in 2010, when Martin gleefully announced on his blog that four chapters of The Winds of Winter were complete. Then, in 2011, the first rumbles of trouble: in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he declined to give a timeline on when fans could expect the sixth book, saying, “There’s an element of fans who don’t seem to realize I’m making estimates. I’ve repeatedly been guilty of an excess of optimism.” How young we were in 2011! How naive!
In 2012, speaking with the Spanish blog Adria’s News, Martin claimed that The Winds of Winter would arrive in 2014, though he did couch that promise in, “I am really bad for predictions” (just wait, this is going to become a theme). Then, after 2014 came and went with no Winds of Winter, Martin’s publisher poured cold water over fans’ heads. “I have no information on likely delivery,” Jane Johnson of HarperCollins told The Guardian. “These are increasingly complex books and require immense amounts of concentration to write. Fans really ought to appreciate that the length of these monsters is equivalent to two or three novels by other writers.” You hear that, everyone? We should just be grateful and stop holding the guy to his word.
In March 2015, Martin told Access, “I still have a lot of pages to write, but I also have a lot of pages that are already written.” Spoken like a true college student. Then, a month later, he told Entertainment Weekly that he hoped to release the book in spring 2016 to coincide with the sixth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, saying, “Maybe I’m being overly optimistic about how quickly I can finish. But I canceled two convention appearances, I’m turning down a lot more interviews—anything I can do to clear my decks and get this done.” But no sooner did 2016 arrive than he said in January of that year, “I am not going to set another deadline for myself to trip over. The deadlines just stress me out.” I’m going to try that one on my editor next time. Fans were alarmed in September 2016 when Amazon France listed The Winds of Winter with a March 2017 release date, but according to HarperCollins, it was a big ol’ nothingburger.
Cut to January 2017, when Martin insisted that this was definitely going to be his year: “I think it will be out this year. (But hey, I thought the same thing last year),” he wrote on his blog. But then, he kept toying with fans, writing, “I am still working on it, I am still months away (how many? good question), I still have good days and bad days, and that’s all I care to say… I do think you will have a Westeros book from me in 2018… and who knows, maybe two. A boy can dream…” How about you finish one book, sir, and then we’ll talk about two?
In June 2018, it was announced that HBO had ordered a pilot for the first of many Game of Thrones spin-offs, and that Martin was co-writing the pilot. Fans eagerly awaiting his next book were understandably concerned, so he took to his trusty blog to reassure them: “Work on Winds of Winter continues, and remains my top priority,” Martin wrote. “It is ridiculous to think otherwise.” Ridiculous!
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Then, 2020 brought the perverse answer to fans’ prayers: the pandemic forced everyone into isolation, and finally, Martin was trapped at home with nothing to do but write. “If nothing else, the enforced isolation has helped me write,” he commented on his blog. “I am spending long hours every day on The Winds of Winter, and making steady progress. I finished a new chapter yesterday, another one three days ago, another one the previous week. But no, this does not mean that the book will be finished tomorrow or published next week. It’s going to be a huge book, and I still have a long way to go.”
Martin wasn’t kidding when he said he had a long way to go. In June 2021, he seemed downright incensed at the thought of being held accountable to all his missed deadlines, writing on his blog, “I will make no predictions on when I will finish. Every time I do, assholes on the internet take that as a ‘promise’, and then wait eagerly to crucify me when I miss the deadline. All I will say is that I am hopeful.”
About those assholes on the internet (could he talking about me?)—Martin sure seems sick of hearing from them. In an interview with IGN, he spoke out about the pressure he faces from the Thrones fandom, saying, “I get that Winds of Winter, the sixth book, is late. I could get a hundred good comments, but there are still a few fans who are going to remind me on my blog; I say, ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ and they say, ‘Never mind Happy Thanksgiving, where’s the book?’ I love the fans, although I do think Twitter and the internet and social media has brought out a viciousness I never saw in the old days. Love and hate are very close, particularly with something like comic books or any established franchises.” If you can’t take the heat, sir, why not just finish the book?
Martin seems to have a new strategy: tease readers with hints about the content of the book to distract from its lateness. In a post on his blog, the author addressed where the book and the television series will diverge. “An architect would be able to give a short, concise, simple answer to that, but I am much more of a gardener,” he wrote. “My stories grow and evolve and change as I write them. I generally know where I am going, sure… the final destinations, the big set pieces, they have been my head for years… for decades, in the case of A SONG OF ICE & FIRE. There are lots of devils in the details, though, and sometimes the ground changes under my feet as the words pour forth.”
It also sounds like The Winds of Winter and A Song of Ice and Fire (the upcoming final volume in the series—I don’t even want to talk about it) may have a different body count than the television series. “One thing I can say, in general enough terms that I will not be spoiling anything: not all of the characters who survived until the end of GAME OF THRONES will survive until the end of A SONG OF ICE & FIRE, and not all of the characters who died on GAME OF THRONES will die in A SONG OF ICE & FIRE,” Martin continued. “(Some will, sure. Of course. Maybe most. But definitely not all) ((Of course, I could change my mind again next week, with the next chapter I write. That’s gardening)). And the ending? You will need to wait until I get there. Some things will be the same. A lot will not.”
This all brings us up to the present—where now, even animated characters are getting on Martin’s case. In an episode of Stephen Colbert’s Tooning Out the News, Martin appears as a guest of animated host Dr. Ike Bloom, who introduces the author as “a struggling writer—let me revise that, truly pathetic—who is having trouble meeting deadlines.” You took the words right out of my mouth, Ike! The segment quickly devolves into a good-natured roast when Bloom calls up James Patterson in the hope of getting Martin “some tips on how to be a successful author.”
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When Patterson asks for the lowdown, Martin reveals that he missed his deadline 11 years ago. “I’ve heard of writer’s block; this is more like writer’s constipation,” Patterson jokes. Martin goes on to reveal that he’s written around 1,100 to 1,200 pages of the book so far, and has just “another 400, 500 pages” to go. Patterson suggests breaking The Winds of Winter into three separate books, saying, “Your problem is solved. You break down the 1,100 pages into three books, you submit them one per year—they’ll be happy and suddenly you’ll be ahead of schedule.” As if Martin’s readers would fall for that, after all these years of false starts, but it’s a nice idea.
Are we sure that this super long, super great, very close to finished book is really worth all the missed deadlines? We’re hoping for the best, even though it seems that there’s no end to Martin’s agony in sight. Hey, friend, have you heard of Procrastinators Anonymous? Maybe they can help. And as for the next and final book in the series, A Dream of Spring… I don’t even want to talk about it.
Books and Fiction Editor
Adrienne Westenfeld is the Books and Fiction Editor at Esquire, where she oversees books coverage, edits fiction, and curates the Esquire Book Club.