Rushing Creativity

I've become a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. An epic fantasy writer clearly influenced by Tolkien like many other greats, he's woven an intricate tale told from several characters' unique points of view. At any time without warning a seemingly insignificant supporting character might well have a chapter of his or her own, and he'll flesh that character out to the point where the reader will experience love, hate, cheers, or fears for the protagonist. Available at The SFBC or other fine retailers, A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords are all masterpieces in their own right.

For some time now fans have been waiting in expectation for the fourth book in the series, A Feast for Crows. Publishers have continually announced release dates, only to push them back as Martin continues to revise, rearrange, and add to these chapters. When my writer e-mailed me a link to his explanation for the delays, that he's still working on it and it will be finished when it's finished, my initial reaction was a sarcastic, “I wish WE could do that.” I work with very strict overlapping deadlines, and every three weeks as I'm finishing up a 24 page catalog and any number of enclosures, I'm expected to be starting on the next batch. My progress is monitored by automated e-mail prompts, “Friendly Reminder”s and “Due Today”s, and I live in fear of receiving a dreaded “late notice”. It's stressful, but it's also nice to have a structure since, in my prior job, books would often be delayed for one reason or another, and I'd never have a sense of accomplishment because I would finish a project, and then it would sit on my hard drive until our budget allowed it to go to a printer. So I was both angry and disappointed with Martin's attitude.

Another Art Director had a different attitude though. A good friend who received the same link saluted Martin, pointing out that he potentially could be one of the greats if allowed to create at his own pace. The Jack Vance and Tolkien examples Martin himself gives attest to that position. Earlier today I snapped at a copy-editor for only proofreading a job this morning that I signed in nearly a week ago. When my editor-in-chief called and asked when I needed her comments on my latest issue, I had to remind her that they were due to me tomorrow according to the schedule, and for me to make my press deadline on Monday I would need them no later than noon on that day. It sunk in afterwards that her conclusion was that she would likely take the work home.

There comes a point of sobriety, where an artist has to step back and question which is more important, the calendar or the end result. At my place of employment it's clearly the former, and missing too many deadlines would almost certainly shorten my professional life span. And realistically commercial art ISN'T exactly painting the Sistine Chapel, and not the modern masterpieces someone like Alex Ross is known for. A year ago at a Wizard convention in Philadelphia, I was surprised to hear Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada defend the lateness of issues to fans, that it's better to wait and get the quality work from an artist. I recall the dreaded “fill-in” issues from my collecting days, when a different artist and writer would take over for a month and break in the middle of an ongoing story because the regular creative team missed their deadlines. Considering the quality of some of the trade paperbacks I've seen of late, I'm starting to think Quesada--and Martin--have the right idea, after all.

I haven't missed a day since I've started this blog but if I ever have nothing to say or very little time to say it, that entry will certainly be delayed before rushed or truncated.


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