The eternal question for A Song of Ice and Fire fans is “When is the book coming out?” This time around we’re waiting for George R.R. Martin’s ‘Son of Kong’, The Winds of Winter. Every other month there is a new rumor about a publication date for the long-awaited book. The latest rumored date to be shot down was October 2015. Guest feature writer BryndenBFish takes a thorough look at Martin’s work on the series, and makes a qualitative assessment on his progress, predicting the best- and the worst-case scenarios for when we can expect to see The Winds of Winter on bookshelves. -Sue the Fury
Caveat Lector: This post contains spoilers for all five published A Song of Ice and Fire novels as well as spoilers for the unpublished sixth novel of A Song of Ice and Fire
Predicting when The Winds of Winter will come out is probably the most pressing issue for fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. The most palpable fear among book-fans is that the TV series will pass the published A Song of Ice and Fire material at the end of A Dance with Dragons and move into uncharted territory spoiling some of the broad plot points and endings of the series.
Meanwhile, recent remarks by George R.R. Martin on his “NotABlog” indicate that he is not planning to attend the San Diego Comic Con or World Fantasy Convention to focus on The Winds of Winter. But in the same “NotABlog” post, GRRM left the door open to attending both conventions if he can complete and deliver The Winds of Winter before both conventions.
As such, fans have thought this was an indication that George R.R. Martin is done or on the home-stretch of The Winds of Winter. But is it? Do we know how far GRRM is in writing The Winds of Winter?
Fans guessing wildly at when Martin will release his long-anticipated sixth novel is a bit of a cottage industry in the A Song of Ice and Fire fandom. Even some professionals like Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight have done some statistical analysis and prediction for when The Winds of Winter will come out. Other professionals have used Bayesian Principles to try to predict when The Winds of Winter will be released. I am, on the other hand, going to give my best SWAG on it.
SWAG in this instance is not being used in the popular sense of the word. Instead, I’m using it from the old military context as a Scientific Wild-Ass Guess. Wikipedia defines a scientific wild ass guess as “…American slang meaning a rough estimate made by an expert in the field, based on experience and intuition. It is similar to the slang word guesstimate.”
Am I an expert on GRRM’s writing, progress, etc? No, but I’ve studied it some, and in doing so, I think we can get a range or a ballpark figure on how many pages GRRM has written for The Winds of Winter. How? Well, I think we can reasonably look at one year’s worth of progress for The Winds of Winter (2012-2013) to see how many pages GRRM wrote for The Winds of Winter in that time period as well as cross-analyze the progress in this 14-month timeframe to how fast GRRM wrote A Dance with Dragons each year from 2008-2010.
I also want to reiterate that I’m not an expert. All I can try to make what I hope is educated guesses or rather scientific wild-ass guesses at George’s progress using the little that we know and then make 3 quantitative-driven SWAGs on where George is at in writing The Winds of Winter and the question on every reader’s mind: when he will complete the book and conclude with a qualitative assessment and my own personal SWAG.
Over on Westeros.Org, Adam Whitehead, personal friend of GRRM and someone who has studied GRRM’s writing processes nicely laid out how GRRM writes ASOIAF. I highly recommend reading the whole comment, but in its bare bones, GRRM has his writing in generally 3 stages (copying the below from Adam’s post on Westeros):
- Partials/Fragments: Individual chunks which GRRM seems to write when ideas take hold before he can lose them, and are then expanded into chapters (or retrofitted into existing ones) later on.
- Drafts: Chapters which are more or less written to completion, but in rough form perhaps lacking fleshed-out description or really strong dialogue. This is material which needs to be reworked into a final form.
- Finalized: Chapters that have not only been completed, polished and editing by George himself, but have been vetted and edited by his editor Anne Groell as well. Finalized chapters – in theory – are ready to go into the final book without any further work, bar fixing typos.
Now, here’s the important part of all the above, GRRM only includes finalized material in his overall page count. So, if (and it’s been awhile since this has happened), GRRM gives a total number of pages he’s completed for The Winds of Winter, he only includes finalized pages in his page-count.
Now that we have our terms in place and hopefully know what they mean, let’s move onto what we actually know about The Winds of Winter.
Everything We Know About The Winds of Winter’s Progress
GRRM estimates that the book will be about 1500 manuscript pages in total — similar in size to A Storm of Swords and A Dance with Dragons. With that in mind, let’s caveat! Before we get started, the first thing to know is that we haven’t had any indication of quantitative progress since March 2013 at the Season 3 premiere of Game of Thrones. That said, what was said between 2010-2013 on The Winds of Winter’s progress is important in SWAG’ing our The Winds of Winter estimate.
In mid-2010 while feverishly writing A Dance with Dragons, GRRM announced that he cut a Damphair chapter from A Dance with Dragons to The Winds of Winter. In that post, he stated that he now had 100 pages now written for The Winds of Winter. Which chapters you might ask? well, GRRM stated them in a different post. They were:
- Arianne I & II (with a 3rd Arianne chapter or possibly a Jon Connington Winds chapter in draft or partial format)
- Arya (Likely Mercy)
- Aeron (Damphair)
Also at some point in this time period, George R.R. Martin finished a Theon The Winds of Winter chapter as he ended up releasing it as an official sample on his website in December 2011 (Before he started writing new material for The Winds of Winter).
And in March 2011 (just before A Dance with Dragons was published) GRRM retained 3 chapters from the final manuscript of A Dance with Dragons for The Winds of Winter. My guesses on the chapters cut at this time are the opening chapters from the Battle of Fire in Meereen: Barristan I, Tyrion I & Victarion I. The reasons being is that GRRM read the Tyrion chapter at Eastercon in April 2012 and Victarion chapter at TIFF Bell Lightbox in March 2012 and reported at Boskone in February 2013 that the Barristan sample chapters he read were “new to us, but not to him.” Additionally, George’s editor Anne Groell talked about cutting two sequences from A Dance with Dragons to The Winds of Winter — one sequence was one that George R.R. Martin removed and the other was one that Anne Groell lobbied to have removed. This likely refers to the Battle in the Ice and the Battle of Fire. And this comment by Feldman10 on reddit leads me to believe that the Battle of Ice was cut 1st by George and the Battle of Fire was cut last by Anne Groell.
So, with 5 chapters (100 MS pages) cut by mid-2010 and 3 more chapters (~50 MS pages) retained from publication in March 2011, we come to a roundabout figure of ~150 finalized manuscript pages that GRRM cut from A Dance with Dragons to The Winds of Winter.
Now, we know that GRRM took a considerable amount of time to conduct touring for ADWD after its publication. In fact, we know for a certainty that GRRM did not actually plan to start writing The Winds of Winter until January 2012. The next thing we know is that GRRM reported that he had about 200 completed pages and 200 in very rough state to a Spanish newspaper that by July 2012 (rough translation)
The next volume in the penultimate series will be called Winds of Winter and Martin has admitted that he has written 400 pages, 200 of which still has to be revised. – Adria’s News 07/2012
So, what does that say exactly? How do we parse this? I think GRRM had a grand total of 200 finalized manuscript pages of The Winds of Winter completed by July 2012. In the 7 months between January 2012 and July 2012, he successfully edited and finalized some 50 new manuscript pages (~3 chapters) of The Winds of Winter. (SWAG’ing again: Barristan II, Tyrion II and an unknown 3rd chapter, perhaps the Prologue that will feature Talis… uh, Jeyne Westerling in it.)
Next up, we have GRRM’s editor Anne Groell’s May 2014 Suvudu interview where she stated that GRRM sent her a 168 manuscript page partial in February 2013 to receive a contracted payment. This was the 1st batch of manuscript pages that GRRM sent to his editors since A Dance with Dragons. Parsing again, what I think is going on here is that GRRM finalized an additional 118 manuscript pages from the 200 pages of very rough material, added the 50 finalized pages he mentioned in July 2012 and sent these manuscript pages to Anne Groell.
Finally, the last thing that George R.R. Martin said about his progress for The Winds of Winter was at the HBO Season 3 Premiere in March 2013. There, Martin told an interviewer that he was “maybe about a quarter of the way done.” Given that a quarter of 1500 manuscript pages is about 375 pages, this makes sense if GRRM had 318 manuscript pages complete (168 pages to his editor in a month prior and 150 pages previously finalized from A Dance with Dragons). The small mismatch in numbers probably derives from both George’s on-the-spot guess at his progress or perhaps he was able to finalize another 50-odd pages before the premier.
And that’s really the last quantitative thing that George has said about The Winds of Winter. He’s made qualitative statements that he’s not had to do as much re-writing for The Winds of Winter as A Feast for Crows or A Dance with Dragons. But otherwise, the very last thing George said about The Winds of Winter was that he’s maybe at 375 manuscript pages out of a 1500 manuscript page book.
The A Dance with Dragons Manuscript Page Count
George R.R. Martin wrote A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords fairly quickly. He started writing in 1991 but gave up to focus on his novel Avalon. But he started writing the books again in 1994 and submitted a 200 manuscript page partial to his editors. Between 1994 and 2000, GRRM wrote 3793 manuscript pages, averaging out to 632 manuscript pages per year.
However, his next novel A Feast for Crows was incredibly problematic due in part to his abandonment of the so-called five-year gap (Martin originally planned his next novel to take place 5 years after the end of events from A Storm of Swords) and other issues with character and plot structure. Eventually Martin split the book into two books resulting in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Both books proved hugely troublesome for Martin as he ended up re-writing several times. He published A Feast for Crows in 2005, but A Dance with Dragons was not published until 2011.
Just before George R.R. Martin finished A Dance with Dragons, he published a really fun blog entry called “Talking About Dance.” In it, he talked extensively about his writing processes, how A Dance with Dragons was written, the division of material back in 2005 and other really interesting things. But for our purposes, the most important section is the page count year to year, and George was even more helpful and added months when he sent his material into his editors. This is instructive for us as we deconstruct page counts, and I believe it provides some surprising insight (which might not be so surprising after I reveal a little more).
For starters, let’s delve into the total page count of A Dance with Dragons. Near the end of the book, the page count was creeping up towards 1700 manuscript pages before cuts to The Winds of Winter were made along with regular good old fashioned editing. The final page count was 1510 manuscript pages. But after cutting 50 additional pages to The Winds of Winter and editing out an additional 80 pages of material. So that’s our baseline. But to get to 1510 manuscript pages, George submitted partial manuscripts to his editors on a semi-regular basis. Here’s his report:
- January 2006: 542 Manuscript pages cut from A Feast for Crows to A Dance with Dragons
- October 2007: 472 Manuscript pages edited down from the 542 batch
- March 2008: 596 Manuscript Pages
- May 2008: 684 Manuscript Pages
- December 2008: 774 Manuscript Pages
- September 2009: 998 Manuscript Pages
- January 2010: 1038 Manuscript Pages
- June 2010: 1028 Manuscript Pages (But remember, he cut 100 pages in June 2010 to TWOW)
- August 2010: 1332 Manuscript Pages
- December 2010: 1412 Manuscript Pages
- March 2011: 1571 Manuscript Pages
Given that George R.R. Martin edited 542 pages down to 472 over the course of 22 months, we can’t really use that data. Instead our data points lie in October 2007 onwards. We can determine how quickly Martin was submitting finalized chapters to his editors by his page counts. Here are some graphs to help out:
- 2008-2009: 252 new manuscript pages
- 2009-2010: 234 new manuscript pages
- 2010-2011: 374 new manuscript pages
And now, let’s represent it visually, shall we?
The things that jump out are that George went through some really slow spots early in writing A Dance with Dragons, but the pace quickened the most in 2010 where GRRM went from 1038 manuscript pages to 1412 manuscript pages. Why did this happen? Well, one of the things that George says in the blog post is:
The page counts given in what follows refer only to COMPLETE CHAPTERS in final draft form… or what I thought was “complete” and “final” at that time. In each case, I had many pages of additional chapters roughed out or partially written, but those pages were not included in my count.
So, likely portions of the book that were in draft/partial form earlier were finalized and placed into the manuscript partials. So, the takeaway to this data dump is that closer the publication date, the higher the number of new completed pages. In fact, as far as I can tell the total number of new completed manuscript pages of A Dance with Dragons in 2010 (The year before A Dance with Dragons was completed and the editing process started) was 374.
A Quantitative SWAG on The Winds of Winter
A Dance with Dragons is instructive for us as we conclude with trying to figure out where George R.R. Martin is in the process of writing The Winds of Winter. If we start at the baseline that George has approximately 375 manuscript pages of The Winds of Winter completed by March 2013, interesting statistical trends emerge. Here’s (yet another) chart:
So, basically, George R.R. Martin wrote about 225 new manuscript pages between January 2012 and March 2013, averaging out to 17 new manuscript pages per month or 204 new manuscript pages per year.
Here’s what I’ll call the Super Pessimistic Prediction: If The Winds of Winter will be 1500 manuscript pages and George was at 375 manuscript pages, and he keeps his 204 new manuscript pages/year pace for 2012 going, we can suppose that George currently has ~783 manuscript pages of The Winds of Winter currently complete with an expected completion date of early-to-mid 2019.
However, I don’t believe this is the case. If we recall the study of A Dance with Dragons, we can see higher new manuscript pages as publication date approaches. (Again, we theorized that this came as a result of drafts/partials become finalized/completed manuscript pages.) And we can even see a little bit of this trend in The Winds of Winter from July 2012 to March 2013.
At the very height of optimism, George R.R. Martin would be able to write at his incredible 632 manuscript pages/year pace, but absolutely no one, including George, believes that this is happening or will happen. So, here’s the height of optimism data point: If George was able to write at his 2010 height and complete 374 new manuscript pages, he’d be at ~1200 total finalized manuscript pages by March 2015 with an expected completion date of around January-February 2016.
This is highly optimistic as it far and above exceeds George’s Winds 2012-2013 writing speed, but again, George R.R. Martin tends to complete higher amounts of new manuscript pages the closer he gets to publication.
A Qualitative SWAG on The Winds of Winter
I have attempted to measure data solely, but I don’t believe that there is enough data to really determine anything specific. George’s comments on The Winds of Winter’s progress have been scant, but he has said some choice things about it:
- On the plus side, he’s had to do less re-writing for The Winds of Winter than for A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons.
- Also in the positive column, GRRM has eliminated most side projects to focus on The Winds of Winter including (tragically) the next Dunk and Egg
- On the downside, GRRM reported that his writing pace remains as slow as ever when he submitted the last of his writing for The World of Ice and Fire.
- He told someone in the comment section that “premature celebration is always a bad idea.”
- Though fans celebrated when he stated that he reserves the right to change his mind about attending SDCC and The World Fantasy Convention if he completes and submits The Winds of Winter, the context is that he doesn’t expect to attend either, thus relatively bad news.
- Finally, in the past, George R.R. Martin opted not to attend Worldcon to finish A Dance with Dragons… in 2007.
So, does this say anything about The Winds of Winter. Well, it’s not done. I’m not so sure it’s that close to being done either. I don’t want to take the route of thinking that George is less than halfway done The Winds of Winter, but I have sincere doubts that he’s down the home-stretch as well.
If you cornered me, put a gun to my head and told me to tell you how many completed manuscript pages are done for The Winds of Winter, I’d probably say that George is just north of 1000 manuscript pages with an expected completion date of late 2016 to early 2017. I think the average pace of 287 manuscript pages/year that George wrote between 2008 and 2010 is probably a good data point. If George had 1350 pages to write from the end of A Dance with Dragons, 287 average manuscript pages per year would have George finishing The Winds of Winter in early 2017. Here’s my last chart.
Of course, even if George R.R. Martin finishes The Winds of Winter by late 2016, early 2017, the book would still need to go through the editing process. The fastest editing of any of the books was A Dance with Dragons which was edited between May and July 2011. So, I guess the question for me is whether The Winds of Winter will be released before season 7 of the show.
But I hope that my moderate pessimism is proved wrong and that George has been able to write The Winds of Winter at a faster pace than any of the modeling that I’ve shown. In that scenario, the show won’t spoil The Winds of Winter, but A Dream of Spring remains fair game.
BryndenBFish is the creator of the Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire Blog, a blog dedicated to political and military analysis of A Song of Ice and Fire. He can be found at twitter as @WarsofASOIAF or tumblr as BryndenBFish.