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Matt Roberts' Music Blog

Monday, April 18, 2011

Writer's Block and "A Song of Ice and Fire"

Apparently George R. R. Martin experienced some difficulties while attempting to finish the next book in his series "A Song of Ice and Fire".  (The series is the basis of a new HBO program that just premiered, A Game of Thrones - which looks like it is going to be pretty good!)

It took Martin over six years to complete his latest book, despite promising his fans to have it done within a year.  Here are some excerpts from a recent New Yorker article about the series and his challenges in completing it.

“Maybe I’m rewriting too much,” he suggested, after a fretful silence. “Maybe I have perfectionist’s disease, or whatever.” 
Martin explained that he’s been tinkering with some parts of “A Dance with Dragons” for ten years. He has a “real love-hate relationship” with a chapter that focusses on Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf: “I ripped it out and put it back in, I ripped it out and put it back in. Then I put it in as a dream sequence, and then I ripped it out again. This is the stuff I’ve been doing.” 
Such indecision, Martin suspects, may be fuelled by the mounting expectations for “A Song of Ice and Fire.” The reviews for the series have been “orders of magnitude better” than he’s received for anything else. After the fourth volume came out, Time anointed him “the American Tolkien.” Many readers have told Martin that his tale is the greatest fantasy story of all time. With the HBO show and his online critics breathing down his neck, the pressure has become even more intense. 
“I don’t want to come across as a whiner or a complainer,” Martin said, as tinted light from the afternoon sun filtered through the stained-glass windows. “No! I’m living the dream here. I have all of these readers who are waiting on the book. I want to give them something terrific.” There was a pause. “What if I fuck it up at the end? What if I do a ‘Lost’? Then they’ll come after me with pitchforks and torches.”

Obviously my situation is very different than Martin's: I don't have millions of fans, or the challenge of being consistent with a fantasy world that has thousands of characters.  My compositions aren't on the scale of fantasy novels many hundreds of pages long. But I still felt like I could relate to his anxieties, although on a smaller scale.  Every time I undertake a project, I want it to exceed expectations and be better than anything I've done before, and that leads to similar re-writing where I spend hours writing a note, changing it, changing it back... Thankfully so far I've always managed to eventually overcome that and just enjoying composing and let go of needing to be in complete control of the result.

This article in The New Yorker seems to further support my theory that writer's block is what happens when anxiety about creating becomes greater then the joy of creating.

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