First, some back story: The Wheel Of Time® is a massive and enormously popular 11-volume epic fantasy series by Robert Jordan. The first book was published in 1990, and Jordan sadly died in 2007 before he could finish the highly anticipated twelfth and final book. In December of 2007, Tor Books (Jordan’s publisher) announced that Harriet McDougal (Jordan’s wife and editor) had asked Brandon Sanderson to complete the last book in the series,
“with scheduled delivery of the manuscript in December 2008 and a planned publication date of Fall 2009.”
Big job, power to him. Now fast forward to the present day:
Tor Books is proud to announce the November 3rd, 2009 on-sale date for The Gathering Storm, Book Twelve of The Wheel of Time and the first of three volumes that will make up A Memory of Light, the stunning conclusion to Robert Jordan’s beloved and bestselling fantasy series. A Memory of Light, partially written by Jordan and completed by Brandon Sanderson, will be released over a two-year period.
The final volume has expanded into a three-volume set! Brandon Sanderson has written an excellent post on how it came to be that way. Here are some snippets, but if you have an interest in writing and publishing, it’s worth reading the full post:
Around January or February, I posted on my blog that I was shooting for a 200k minimum. This surprised a lot of people, as 200k would not only have made AMoL the shortest Wheel of Time book other than the prequel, it seemed a very small space in which to tie up the huge number of loose ends in the book.
April 2008. I had to make a decision. I realized that the book would be impossible to do in 200k. I’d begun to say on my blog that it would be at least 400k, but even that seemed a stretch. … And this is where the first decision came in. Did I try to cram it into 400k? Or did I let it burgeon larger?
I wrote all summer, and the next point of interest comes at Worldcon. Tom [Doherty] and I were on a panel together, talking about AMoL. I noted that (by that point) I had around 250k written. He said something like “Ah, so you’re almost done!” I looked chagrined and said “Actually, I feel that I’m only about 1/3 of the way there, Tom.”
By December, after my book tour, I was pushing hard to even get 400k done. I still had this phantom hope that somehow, I’d be able to spend January, February, and March writing harder than I’d ever written before and somehow get to 750k by the March deadline that Tom had said was about the latest he could put a book into production and still have it out for the holidays.
Anyone who works in software will recognize the process at work here: you start working on something, and it turns out to be much larger than you expected. It’s not scope creep — that’s a different beast entirely — it’s a matter of doing it right. Ian Hickson magnificently put it like this:
Someone asked for onbeforeunload, so I started fixing it. Then I found that there was some rot in the drywall. So I took down the drywall. Then I found a rat infestation. So I killed all the rats. Then I found that the reason for the rot was a slow leak in the plumbing. So I tried fixing the plumbing, but it turned out the whole building used lead pipes. So I had to redo all the plumbing. But then I found that the town’s water system wasn’t quite compatible with modern plumbing techniques, and I had to dig up the entire town. And that’s basically it.
There are a lot of similarities between writing and coding. They are both intensely creative occupations, and both can be frustratingly unpredictable. There are some types of project that you can estimate and write or build fairly accurately, but in many cases (a novel, the next Twitter) you’re breaking completely new ground. You can start with an idea, but until you get it out on paper, or down on the screen, you really don’t know how it is going to turn out.
Sure, you can write a detailed outline or specification, but you still have to hammer out the details on a line-by-line basis. Unless you take a lot of time to extend that outline or spec down to the line level, unexpected stuff will slip through the cracks, and you’ll find yourself dealing with the unknown.
Which is where the magic happens.