Authors Are People Too
In defense of George R. R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and any other author who doesn’t churn out books as fast as their readership thinks they should:
Neil Gaiman says it best here, but after spending some time reading reviews of Patrick Rothfuss’s books today (I’ve read part of Name of the Wind and was wanting to know if it stays as good as it starts. I’ve wasted too much money on books with good opening chapters but sucky everything elses. So, I read reviews before buying books now.) I feel compelled to share my feelings.
Look, as amazing as some people might find this, authors aren’t machines. We’re, amazingly enough, actual people. We have lives outside of putting words to the page. We have families. We have hobbies. We have obligations that have nothing to do with the book we’re currently working on. We get random inspirations for other things that we have to write right then so they don’t get lost forever. We have crises.
In other words, aside from maybe the random inspiration thing, we’re just like you.
Yes, I know that there’s a common thing now — I saw it in way too many Nanowrimo pep talks last year, in fact — that when working on a book the author has to make it their whole life. Kids, spice, taking care of yourself when you have the flu from the ninth layer of hell . . . none of that matters as much as writing. That, dear readers, is utter bullshit, in the same way putting any career ahead of everything else is bullshit. If I have to explain that statement to you, quit reading. You won’t get a damned thing I say. Ever.
To those of you still reading, yes, I know that there are authors who can write x number of words, pages, chapters, whatever a day without anything else suffering. Awesome. That doesn’t mean everyone can. Or even that they can all the time. Life happens sometimes, you know?
And sometimes, sometimes regardless of how much you want to sit down and turn out several thousand words a day, the story just won’t cooperate. I fully expected the second Kavaliro Cousins book to be out by now. Instead, I’ve barely even looked at the file since last August. Why? Because it’s just not working. First, I realized I started in the wrong spot. Then, once I realized what the focus of the story really was, I realized that I’d gotten my characters into a situation that I had no clue how to get them out of. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I later got a completely different idea for what sort of space opera the second book should be and started over completely.
Now, I know I can, supposedly, avoid all of this if I was a planner instead of a pantser (as in “write by the seat of your pants”, cute, no?). But even that doesn’t keep a story from falling apart. I was writing a romance last year with a pretty good idea what was going to happen and when and things like that. Then as I wrote it, I noticed something horrible: the only way to generate the drama and such necessary for it to work was for the characters to act horribly out of character. So, I abandoned that story. Luckily I was less than twenty pages in, but I’ve heard of things like that happening to authors much further in. No plan survives contact with the enemy, and, believe me, characters can be the author’s enemy.
“But,” some of you are saying, “Patrick Rothfuss had already written his books. They just needed revised!” And I can tell that you’re not authors. Revision is not an easy process. Revision is a bitch. You’ve got this book you’ve dedicated all this time to writing, right? You know it’s not perfect, but you think it’s pretty good when you finish it. Then you, and frequently other people to, start reading it critically. Sometimes you’re lucky. Jake’s Last Mission changed very little from first draft to published form. Sometimes you’re not so lucky. The first version of Stolen Time and the published form differed in things as big as what person they were in. And then there are times when the revision process means you have to add or seriously change scenes because of some little change you made somewhere else. I’m anticipating this with No More Lies because there’s one scene I really want to change, but changing it means I’m going to have to redo about three other scenes slightly, and changing them may mean I’ll have to change others and . . . now you see how “just” revising can take years? I’m going to have No More Lies out by no later than next June because I know me. I need a hard and fast deadline or I’ll do one of two things: I’ll either keep tinkering with the book until I’ve sucked all the soul out of it, or I’ll keep putting off revising it forever. From what I can tell, that’s not what Rothfuss is doing. Just from reading some of his blog posts, I think it’s pretty safe to bet that if he released the book as is, it’d still be pretty good. Thing is, “pretty good” isn’t what he or his publisher wants. “Pretty good” isn’t what got him #1 on the NYT Best-Sellers List, I’m pretty sure.
(And if you’re one of those crazy authors that considers revision the fun part, please comment explaining this, because it makes no sense to me at all.)
Let’s see, what haven’t I covered yet? Oh! Right, them working on other projects or even doing things besides writing. Look, I’m very much a “stick with one story until it’s done” sort of author, but lots of authors aren’t, and even I have times where I have to take a break and work on something else, or even take a break from writing completely, to refocus myself. And lots of authors? They’re working on several different things at once all the time. Don’t assume that just because they just released a novella it means that they weren’t working on their other book too. There are authors who write best when they take months off at a time. Some writers have to write every day, not for any sense of duty or whatever, but just because it’s what works for them. I have to do something creative almost every day to keep those muscles exercised, but I can’t write every day or I start writing from a sense of responsibility instead of from love and my prose suffers as a result. Again, it’s all about what works best for that particular author.
Now, my final point: this weird ass idea that you are somehow owed the next book because you bought the others. No. Purchasing their book is not, amazingly enough, signing a contract with them that stipulates they will release the next book when you want to read it. It’s purchasing that one book. If they want to take twenty years to put out the next book, that’s between them and their publisher. If they want to stop writing the series completely that is a slightly different matter . . . in my opinion, you have the right to be pissed then, but, ultimately, it’s still between them and their publisher. They’re not violating any sort of agreement with you.
And I have no pithy or witty or anything like that way to end this. That kind of sucks.