Personal and Other

The Most Chaotic Pantser In The World

We write differently.

We all have our own processes, things that work for us and things that don’t. Some are more chaotic than others.

Being a chaotic writer is a challenge all in itself. As someone who doesn’t do much outlining, its easy to feel like your way of writing isn’t legitimate, that you aren’t doing it right – or you’re forgetting something really important.

I want to give my fellow agents of chaos some confidence. So let me introduce the most chaotic pantser in the whole world:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ed/Portrait_photoshoot_at_Worldcon_75%2C_Helsinki%2C_before_the_Hugo_Awards_%E2%80%93_George_R._R._Martin.jpg/1200px-Portrait_photoshoot_at_Worldcon_75%2C_Helsinki%2C_before_the_Hugo_Awards_%E2%80%93_George_R._R._Martin.jpg
George R R Martin. (source: wikipedia.org)

Yep, that guy. The most successful writer of modern fantasy, creator of Game of Thrones (or ASOIAF, if you’re a book person like me). His writing process is total chaos. Here’s why.

Number one, he writes on a DOS machine. Yes, a computer from the 80s. By his own admission, it’s not connected to the internet, and he uses the programme WordStar 4.0, which is 40 years old. Which means it’s safe to say he’s probably not backing up his work. (Though maybe he has a helper who does that for him.)

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f5/WordStar.png
WordStar 3.0. (source: wikipedia.org)

Number two: he frequently writes himself into corners. He famously described writers as either gardeners or architects, and said gardeners were the ones who planted the seed of an idea and let it grow, occasionally pruning to keep it pretty. He just writes, and if he decides the story’s going the wrong way, he’ll delete whole sections – sometimes multiple chapters – of his latest work. I can’t imagine working on a project as large and stressful as ASOIAF, which has so many eyes on it, without at least knowing where it’s going. What if he runs out of ideas?!

Number three: he actually did run out of ideas. He tried to start the fourth book in his series several times, but couldn’t get it to work. Eventually one of his friends suggested that, instead of writing the story chronologically, as he had done for the first three books, he’d write about all the events in Westeros in that book, then double back and write about everything that was happening in Essos at the same time in book five. Apparently, that helped him break his writers block, but damn if it doesn’t irritate me a bit.

Which brings me to number four: he edits as he goes. I remember reading that on his average writing day, he starts by editing what he wrote the day before, then writes the next section ready for the next day. Big, post-manuscript edits are not really part of his repertoire.

And number five: there is no plan. Well, that’s not strictly true. There was a plan: a tentative plan to write three books. But the story grew more and more complicated as he wrote, and now we’re on track for a seven-book series.

So if you’ve ever felt bad for doing a major adjustment half way through a project, don’t worry: George has done it more than perhaps anyone. If you’ve ever felt bad for using LibreOffice instead of Word: George is there playing with his 16-bit. If you’ve ever felt like you’ve taken your characters in the wrong direction, George has probably done that dozens of times. Whatever chaos you can dream up, he’s been there and done it to the extreme.

And man, look how well it’s worked for him.

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