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4 finals week lessons we learned from George RR Martin

Image courtesy of James He

George RR Martin, New York Times Bestselling author and Northwestern alumnus, provided us his magical insight on fame, failures, and following his dreams.


ast month, Northwestern alum George R.R. Martin and author of best-selling novel series A Song of Ice and Fire and hit HBO series Game of Thrones was presented with the Hall of Achievement award from the Medill School of Journalism.

The same afternoon, he gave a live Q&A session in front of a sold-out audience where he addressed his writing, his characters, and his career from unknown writer to world-famous author. Though his speech covered a variety of different topics, there were many life lessons we can learn from it, especially in times of difficulty. So, without further ado, here are four things we learned from GRRM’s talk to keep in mind as you study for your finals this quarter.

  1. Study hard. We’re all nerds. Everyone.


George R.R. Martin flashing his nerdy side at the San Diego Comic Con

As a child, Martin grew up with a passion for science fiction and fantasy literature and films. His passion ended up being so great that he eventually made a career out of it. Prioritize by studying harder for the subjects you’re passionate about. You’ll be happier studying for it, and would generally perform better.


  1. Can you believe that Martin has failed many times? This may be trite, but don’t give up. 


According to Martin, his success is built upon all the other times he wasn’t as successful.

Though he was faced with failed book after failed TV show, Martin never gave up.  He tells us that “writing is not a secure career, with “violent reversals of success and fortune”. Before gaining international fame with A Game of Thrones, Martin worked on numerous other projects that didn’t quite garner as much attention or success. One of them is a show called Doorways, which was a parallel universe show that his team proposed to ABC in 1992. However, the pilot never made it on air after ABC rejected the script, as the project was too difficult for the technological means for the time. So even if you do fail that practice final, don’t freak out! Keep on doing more problems, since gaining more experience means that you will be better prepared for the final.


  1. Learn as you go.


Martin cites J.R.R. Tolkien and his The Lord of the Rings trilogy as one of his greatest influences.

“Tolkien is a great world builder,” said Martin. “He’s got the Silmarillion, and the Appendices, and everything, but not all fantasy writers are like that.”

Though Martin greatly admires J.R.R. Tolkien and the Middle Earth that he built, he himself did not create a whole world complete with languages and histories to develop the story of A Game of Thrones. He is consistently building and growing his world as he writes his stories, comparing it to an iceberg.

“Tolkien’s world is like an iceberg,” Martin said. “Where the story is the tip of the iceberg and the background is the mass underneath. But for me, it’s more like there’s a bit of ice on a raft, and we just want you to think that there’s an iceberg underneath there.”

Learn from every problem you don’t understand, and slowly build your knowledge just as how Martin gradually built Westeros to the thriving world it is today.


  1. Always work in your own style, even if that means going back to the basics.


An example screenshot of Wordstar, the word processing program that Martin uses.

George RR Martin still uses Wordstar, a primitive word processing program from the 1980’s instead of Microsoft Word, which is the industry standard for today. Martin says, “I just go into my room, open up a new Wordstar document, and on a good day I could just keep writing and writing”.

Just like Martin, follow your own studying style, even if it differs from what all of your friends are doing. Working at you own pace guarantees better understanding of the material, and would most likely be more beneficial in the long run.

Allison Lu

About Allison Lu

From Gurnee, IL, Allison is NBR's interim managing editor. She's a computer science major who enjoys photography, music, and graphic design. You can usually find her chilling on her bed or snacking on an absurd amount of peach rings.

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