A Point of Interest
Recently, George R.R. Martin appeared with fellow fantasy author Robin Hobb at an event in London’s Freemasons’ Hall. With over 50 books between them, each has a distinctive approach to writing. I thought it would be a great idea to share some of the highlights from a question & answer session with you, as their answers provide some great pointers for new and aspiring writers.
On their first stories.
“I never finished any of my early stories. They were all beginnings, an endless number of beginnings.” – George R.R. Martin
“I was dressed up as a witch for Halloween, and wanted to write a story about my black cat before I went out trick-or-treating. I think it went out with the trash the next day.” – Robin Hobb
“The best writing advice I had was in ‘Heinlein’s Rules for Writers’ by (American science fiction author) Robert A. Heinlein. His first rule is that you must write, and I was already doing that, but his second rule is, ‘You must finish what you write,’ and that had a big impact on me.” – George R.R. Martin
“I had these cheap alien toys and I made up stories for them. They were space pirates. They didn’t have names so I made up names. These were the first stories I wrote. Even as a little kid I was thinking about torture.” – George R.R. Martin
“We never went anywhere because we had no money and we had no car, but I would look out the living room window and see the lights of Staten Island. It was incredibly romantic to me, like Middle Earth. Of course, the danger is you eventually get to Staten Island.” – George R.R. Martin
“I began reading everything in the family library. Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe. And of course, if you’re running out of books to read you can always read Shakespeare.” – Robin Hobb
“Reading. That was the sport I was good at.” – George R.R. Martin
On their first professional work.
“It was a story called ‘The Hero’ which I sold to Galaxy magazine in 1970, for $94.” – George R.R. Martin
“I began attempting to write for children under the mistaken assumption that writing for children was easy.” – Robin Hobb
“I was a journalism major, and I would take creative writing classes as part of that, but I would also look for opportunities to write stories for some of my other classes. So for my course in Scandinavian history, I asked if I could write historical fiction instead of term papers. Sometimes they’d say yes.” – George R.R. Martin
“It’s different for every writer. It’s not a career for anyone who needs security. It’s a career for gamblers. It’s a career of ups and downs.” – George R.R. Martin
“Very little about being a writer is signing an autograph. It’s sitting in a room and writing. Getting it out.” – Robin Hobb
“I agree. The main thing is the stories. Ultimately you want to get back to that room, back to your people.” – George R.R. Martin
“I’ve been very lucky. There were times when I was afraid I would never sell another book, but I never doubted I’d write another book.” – George R.R. Martin
“It’s being ready to accept rejection. You can work on a book for two years and get it published, and it’s like you may as well have thrown it down a well. It’s not all champagne and doing interviews with The New York Times.” – George R.R. Martin
“It’s like chasing butterflies and trying not to crush them.” – Robin Hobb
“There’s part of me that loves words. But sometimes it feels like you’re trying to drive nails with your shoe.” – George R.R. Martin
“The biggest doubts come in the five minutes after I hit send.” – Robin Hobb
“I enjoy rewriting much more than I do first drafts. Rewriting, at least you have something to work with. I find writing first drafts extremely difficult.” – George R.R. Martin
“When both my editors say ‘This is really bad, you need to change this,’ I ignore that at my peril.” – Robin Hobb
On killing characters and torturing readers.
“I could have written a story about a well-adjusted family. Ned Stark comes down to King’s Landing and takes over and solves all their problems. Would that have been as exciting?” – George R.R. Martin
“George handles this huge cast of characters so well. When I get beyond four or five characters, I think, well, there’s one way to simplify this story.” – Robin Hobb
“The way my books are structured, everyone was together, then they all went their separate ways and the story deltas out like that, and now it’s getting to the point where the story is beginning to delta back in, and the viewpoint characters are occasionally meeting up with each other now and being in the same point at the same time, which gives me a lot more flexibility for killing people.” – George R.R. Martin
On overcoming blocks.
“I will sit there and say, don’t do that, don’t do that, you’re going to make this story three chapters longer, and of course he doesn’t listen.” – Robin Hobb on her main character, Fitz.
“Thankfully, I have a lot of characters. So if I run into a Tyrion problem, I can write with Arya for a while. Then one day there’s a solution for the Tyrion problem, out of nowhere.” – George R.R. Martin
On what they’d tell their younger selves.
“Start writing sooner. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t hesitate.” – Robin Hobb
“I’d be anonymous. That’s what I’d do differently.” – George R.R. Martin
On A Song of Ice and Fire.
“I thought it could be a trilogy. It was initially proposed to be A Game of Thrones, A Dance of Dragons, and The Winds of Winter. There was a period when I thought I’d never get to A Dance With Dragons, because the second book became the third book, and then it became the fourth book, and then it became the fifth book. The tale grew in the telling. It’s all very well to discuss some of these things in the outline, but when you sit down to write it, other plots occur to you, secondary characters come in, you think of an interesting subplot. Suddenly the stew is much richer, but it also takes more bowls to fill it up.” – George R.R. Martin
“My dreams are the usual incoherent nonsense. Like most writers, at some point in my career I thought, well, I have these great dreams but I always forget them in the morning so I’ll leave a pad on my bedside table so I can write it down, and then you have some incredible dream and you write it down and the next morning you wake up and you’ve written ‘purple socks’.” – George R.R. Martin
“Everybody has felt at one time or another that everyone else in the world had a better shot than they did, so when you engage that, you engage the reader, and I think you create a character that brings the reader more fully into the story.” – Robin Hobb
“I’ve always had a soft spot for the outsider, for the underdog. ‘Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things’, as the title of one of the (TV series) episodes goes. The angst that they have in life makes for more conflict, makes for more drama, and there’s something very attractive about that. My Game of Thrones is told by outsiders of both types. None of them fit comfortably into the society into which they’ve been born, and they’re all struggling to find a place for themselves in which they’re valued and loved and respected, despite what their society considers their deficiencies. And out of that, I think, comes good stories.” – George R.R. Martin
“Names are hard. I have a library of What to Name Your Baby books, and I’m always picking up new books, and books of baby names from other countries. I like cool-sounding names.” – George R.R. Martin
“I do know what’s been useless to me is the online fantasy name generators. I’ve tried those a few times, and they say, ‘Just hit this button and we’ll generate 50 fantasy names,’ and they all turn out to be ‘Grisknuckle’.” – George R.R. Martin
“A lot of fantasy names are too much. They’re too difficult to pronounce. I wanted the flavor of medieval England. I took actual names we still use today, like ‘Robert’, and in some case I tweaked them a little bit. I made ‘Edward’ into ‘Eddard’. If you look back at medieval times, no one knew how to spell their own names. There are a lot of variations that we’ve lost.” – George R.R. Martin
“There’s an old writing rule that says ‘Don’t have two character names start with the same letter’, but I knew at the beginning that I was going to have more than 26 characters, so I was in trouble there. Ultimately it comes down to what sounds right. And I struggle with that, finding the right name for a character. If I can’t find the right name I don’t know who the character is and I can’t proceed.” – George R.R. Martin
Courtesy of Buzzfeed.
There you go...some nice little tips and insights in there. I found some of the answers fascinating, especially regarding what they’d tell their younger selves. Me? I’d definitely start writing sooner...
What about you?