Study Hacks Blog

George R. R. Martin’s Pandemic Writing Retreat

August 17th, 2020 · 26 comments

As discussed in a blog post published earlier this week, Game of Thrones scribe George R. R. Martin is trying to take advantage of the pandemic to help finish The Winds of Winter,  the long awaited (and long overdue) next title in his epic fantasy series.

Years earlier, Martin bought the building across the street from his Santa Fe home to provide some separation between his personal and professional lives (“no longer would I write all day in my red flannel bathrobe”), but more recently he found even that space had become too distracting to properly concentrate.

So he’s now relocated to a remote mountain cabin with a bad internet connection where he can really get serious about writing.

To avoid needing to make his own coffee, he even has poor assistants — whom he regrettably calls “minions — take two-week shifts at the cabin. Because Martin is not exactly a specimen of peak physical fitness, and therefore rightly concerned about Covid, he has them self-quarantine for two weeks at home before their shifts begin.

Like a gearhead gawking at Jay Leno’s $50 million car collection,  I always find it fascinating, if not at times unnerving (minions!?), to read about how rich professional thinkers support concentration when money is no object.

At times like these, I think a lot of us could probably get a lot out of an isolated mountain cabin. Even if we had to make our own coffee.

26 thoughts on “George R. R. Martin’s Pandemic Writing Retreat

  1. Carmel Gafa says:

    Hi Cal,
    I see this as “what portion of my wealth am I willing to invest so that I can go to the next level?” For us humans it might mean refurbishing the basement and buying semi expensive notepads. At that level you get minions. Achievement unlocked.

  2. Laura says:

    I assume/hope he’s using the term “minion” tongue-in-cheek. 🙂

    (Loving your podcast, by the way!)

    1. Study Hacks says:

      I assume so. But he’s also kind of a strange guy…

  3. I’m fine. Desk. Pen. PC. 3x5s.

    1. Joel Sanders says:

      How do you use your 3x5s? I spent a couple of years building a “commonplace book,” filling boxes with notes taken on 3×5 cards, but discarded the practice as I rarely made use of them in my work.

  4. Joe says:

    It’s funny that this plays out at every level, as long as you’re still trying to optimize and improve. During Covid I’ve turned my small house (1100 sq ft, built in 1954 before fast food made us too big for this), into a series of locations to accomplish different tasks. I just assembled a new cheap writing table in my spare room, giving me two separate tables in there (for less than $300 total) to differentiate between work and dissertation activities.

    My bedroom hasn’t had electronics, other than an alarm clock with a dimmer button to turn off the light, for a few years now. The spare room has an L-shaped table with my printer and work issued Macbook Air. The new writing table has my personal Lenovo laptop and plenty of room to stack/organize papers for my literature review. Each table is just the tabletop and legs with folders/organizers of various types for relevant papers and other items. They’re arranged so that sitting at one takes the other completely out of the line of sight.

    The small dining area gets double use as well. I sit on one side when I eat my meals. My church is going through a Bible reading plan together this year, so the other side has a printout of the plan for each week along with my Bible. I literally face the opposite direction just to do a different task. Even my living room has split use as my chair is used for reading and sofa for watching TV/movies.

    It may not be the full physical barrier that George has, but houses are cheap enough where I am that buying the one across the street would only be about $90k so maybe I’ll do that someday. Santa Fe is only 5 hours away, so maybe I’ll just move in next to George someday soon.

  5. Mary Lee says:

    I also find it unnerving. I can’t imagine that it’s a good thing that the majority of his (in-person) relationships are of such imbalanced power dynamics.

  6. Derek Chan says:

    Remote cabin, one assistant. Hasn’t he seen Misery?

    1. Study Hacks says:

      I think there’s a 70% chance that he is in fact in a misery situation at this very moment. Except it’s being live-streamed to millions of frustrated GoT fans

    2. Sean says:

      The main character in Misery did put out his best work under those conditions, so I wouldn’t be opposed to this scenario.

  7. Scott Delinger says:

    I had a spreadsheet for a couple of years pre-COVID that demonstrated how much I’d save by purchasing an espresso machine (and beans, milk, etc.) and hadn’t “pulled the trigger” on a purchase. Three weeks into COVID and isolation from Starbucks, I’m saving more TIME than money. And I don’t need a minion, and the mindful preparation of mochas, lattes, or cappuccinos gives me a welcome break from work while I reset to sit down with the coffee and start again.

  8. gomboc says:

    “Because Martin is not exactly a specimen of peak physical fitness” LOL. That was both mean and funny.

  9. Frances says:

    I think the term ‘minions’ has a new cuter meaning after the film ‘despicable me’

  10. Jared Wyllys says:

    Whatever it takes. Just finish the book George!

  11. Julia says:

    I bet he’s just jealous of Stephen King. I can’t remember if I come across this particular interview in one of your books or on this blog, but here’s Martin asking King how he can write so fast:

    Another story

  12. EA says:

    So what’s your take on Bill Gates’ Think Week?

    1. Deb says:

      I think he wrote about it in the end of Deep Work, mentioned how Gate’s Think Week led Microsoft’s future with the rise of the Internet.

  13. JH says:

    I think the big problem that GRRM has is twofold. One, he’s never been a disciplined person. He’s trying to sequester himself in this cabin or whatever, but he’s going to have more and more distractions brought in because he can and that’s because:

    Two, he doesn’t want to finish Winds of Winter. I mean, his fans want him to, obviously. And he tells people he wants to, but let’s look at the reality of the situation. At his actions vs the words he says. He’s not having fun writing this story anymore. He’s literally writing anything but this story. He doesn’t want to do it. It’s why he has no problems popping out wild card anthologies or other stories within westeros, and huge problems doing this. It may be because he’s too lazy, or he’s bored with it, or he’s lost the passion for it, or any number of other reasons that are purely his business, but he doesn’t want to finish this story.

    And that’s okay, we’re not owed anything by him. But that’s what’s really going on here. Ultimately if you don’t want to do something, all the focus and all the digital minimalism and all the heads down work in the world won’t make you do it.

    1. Vitor says:

      Maybe it’s just anxiety from all the pressure?

  14. Dark says:

    He probably meant *pour* assistants. To avoid doing any unnecessary coffee-related tasks.

  15. Like J.D. Salinger, basically, except that he never published what he wrote.

  16. Cheri says:

    Hi Cal.

    I enjoyed your post. Just FYI that as I viewed the blog on mobile (iPhone Firefox) I got a huge ConvertKit popup for your mailing list, and it covered the screen and moved around to the extent that I couldn’t dismiss it. I had to refresh the page.

    Feel free to delete this comment after reading it.

  17. Ken says:

    I’m more likely to take advice from J.K. Rowling, who actually finished her series.

  18. Josh S says:

    Great Article! I also agree with George, many people should take some time in a mountain cabin to refresh. It has always been good for us. Except we bring out own coffee! Have a great day

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