The Heart in Conflict With Itself

The other day I listened to an interview with George R.R. Martin on iTunes “Meet the Author,” and it had a lot of good advice for aspiring authors.  Granted, this was an old interview that came out on 11/07, but the advice he gave was still very relevant.  Since he’s one of my favorite authors, even if he does have a disturbing habit of killing off main characters, I listened carefully, and these were the three main things I took away from it.

  1. Persistence: When George R.R. Martin first decided he wanted to make a living as a writer, he realized he’d have to produce a lot more stories, so he organized his time in order to write for half a day every day.  This enabled him to finish a story about every two weeks, which is impressive by itself, but he also used the same mentality to get his work out there.  Whenever a story was rejected, he would just put it in another envelope and send it on to the next place, never stopping, never looking back.  Some of his stories were rejected many times, but he just kept sending them out until they found a home somewhere.
  2. Keep Moving Forward: When one of his stories was rejected, George R.R. Martin didn’t waste his time going back and tinkering with it.  If it was done, it was done, and there was no use going backwards.  Instead, he kept producing new work, which is what a writer needs to do in order to succeed.   Meanwhile, he’d still be sending out the old, but his focus was on the new.
  3. Appreciate your fans: He said there were times early in his career when he’d be doing book signings at the mall, and only five people would show up in an hour and he was happy because he thought maybe no one would show up.  So now that he is so popular, he really appreciates his fans, and therefore he makes the time for them, and keeps a blog in order to keep them informed of his work and appearances.  This extra step is important, and remembering who is effectively supporting you is important as well, and something I’ll definitely keep in mind if I ever have fans of my own.  Someday, hopefully.

George R.R. Martin also made a comment about the nature of stories that I really liked.  He said the only thing worth writing about is “the human heart in conflict with itself.”  And yes, he said he borrowed it from Faulkner, but it was good to hear this from a man who writes sci fi and fantasy.  Too often genre work is considered somehow lower than literary work, which is frustrating because it’s just another way of expressing the same themes.  Personally, I love the freedom inherent in fantasy works; you can do anything, as long as you follow the rules you set up for whatever world you’ve created, and if you do your job right, your characters feel just as solid and real and important as any “literary” characters.  But that’s just a personal grudge of mine, so I won’t rant about it too much here.

Anyways, if you’re looking for some really excellent epic fantasy, you should check out “A Game of Thrones,” the first book in his Songs of Fire and Ice series.  George R.R. Martin doesn’t believe in black and white characters, and you’ll get to see a land torn by political intrigue and war from all different sides, until you’re not sure who you want to win, or if there even can be a winner.  Great stuff.


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