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Troubled Production / Literature

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While this trope normally is not applicable to books, seeing how books typically are only written by one individual, it does occasionally happen.

  • All The Crooked Saints took Maggie Stiefvater an entire year just to draft because at the same time she was writing it, she developed complex health issues that resulted in "brain fog" so bad she often couldn't write more than a paragraph per day, much of which still wasn't usable. It turns out the cause was hookworms in her face, both rare and incredibly horrifying.
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  • Black Beauty was written while its author, Anna Sewell, was very ill with hepatitis and tuberculosis (in addition to her not being able to walk due to an injury she sustained as a teenager). She could only write a few lines at a time, with her mother assisting her physically getting the words down on paper. The book took six years to write, despite having an average length for a 19th century English novel. Sewell did live long enough to see the novel's early success, but she passed away five months after it was published in 1878 at the age of 58.
  • Stephen King had a very hard time getting into the headspace of a teenage girl for his first novel Carrie, and after much laboring over just the first few pages he threw them in the trash. Luckily, his wife found and read them, and encouraged him to keep going, if only because she was intensely curious about where the story was going. He still considers it one of his weaker books, and says Brian De Palma's film adaptation is the better version.
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  • Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly qualifies as a Troubled Production for the fact that it was written after he suffered a stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome, meaning he was completely paralyzed except for his eyes—and his right eyelid was sewn shut due to an irrigation problem. His therapist at the hospital used partner-assisted scanning for communication by reciting frequency-ordered French letters until Bauby blinked his left eyelid to pick the next letter, and it was through this laborious process that Bauby wrote a book about what it was like living with his condition. It took ten months total and four hours a day to write the book, and Bauby died of pneumonia two days after it was first published in France—but not before it sold 25,000 copies on its first day to great acclaim. It went on to become a bestseller throughout Europe in short order, has sold millions to this day, and has since been adapted into an equally critically-acclaimed film.
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  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe: The Eighth Doctor Adventures. They were initally edited by a woman who knew nothing about Doctor Who. The top writers on the Doctor Who New Adventures were recruited and then told they couldn't do the stuff that had worked before because BBC Books wanted the EDAs to be distinct from the Virgin line. And when one of their writers did come up with a truly original idea that could have established a direction for the line, the lack of actual discussion between the writers as to what to do with it meant he took his ball and went home when other authors went in a different direction. When Justin Richards took over as editor, pretty much all he could do was torch the franchise and start over, and even that didn't really work. Then, just as the line seemed like it was finally starting to come into its own, the BBC ordered it (and the Past Doctor Adventures) scrapped so as not to distract from the 2005 relaunch of the show. While fans were willing to put up with the faults of the books due to the comparative lack of any other Doctor Who related material in those years, they've since come to be seen (fairly or otherwise) as the poor relations of the Big Finish audio stories.
  • The Dresden Files fandom encountered this for the first time with the planned 16th book, Peace Talks. Jim Butcher had previously churned out Dresden books a year and a half apart at most, but after the previous book's release nearly five years went by without a firm release date. In response to fan complaints, Jim eventually put up a “release date” countdown website just said "X days until Peace Talks comes out", with X being the number of visitors to the site. Eventually an announcement was put up on his official website explaining that in the interim Jim had gotten divorced, his dog had died, he'd remarried, moved to another state, and got stuck living in a shitty apartment with no writing space for years while an even shittier contractor failed to build him a house. By January 2019, the book got back on track, and Butcher finally announced via Twitter on June 17th, 2019 that he only had the epilogue left to finish, bringing the novel to a total of 67 chapters. As of July 22, 2019, it's complete except for a last editing pass.
  • Harry Potter
    • According to J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was subject to this after she discovered a huge Plot Hole halfway through writing. She rewrote chapter 9 thirteen times.
    • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix went though more mild troubles; it took two years to write, apparently due to its dark and depressing subject matter. She also changed her mind about killing Arthur Weasley right when it came time to write the scene, causing her to spend the rest of the series determined to kill off another Weasley to balance it out.
  • According to Carlos Ruiz Zafón, his novel Marina's earlier publications were plagued by Executive Meddling, legal problems and even fraud attempts, and they almost got the book pulled out of print at several points. It was only solved with the second edition, nearly ten years after, which comes with a note by Zafón explaining the ordeal. You can note the Reality Subtext in his posterior work El Juego del Ángel, which almost turns into an Author Tract, when the main character bitterly explaines those and other problems as the banes of the professional writer.
  • Terry Pratchett suffered from a rare form of Alzheimer's Disease for his final eight years, which left his mental faculties intact but severely affected his spatial recognition, making it increasingly hard to write. His last several books were completed entirely by dictation.
  • All of the work by Dr. Seuss under the Beginner Books imprint are the result of a struggle to work within the severely restricted word list that Random House created, under the impression that those words would be all that young children would be able to handle with only the occasional "emergency word" outside the list allowed. His niece Peggy later recounted that while he was working on one, she would often find him lying on the floor and moaning, certain that he would never be able to finish without breaking the rules and dooming the book to being rejected. Ultimately Random House CEO Bennett Cerf was forced to fire his own wife, who'd been the major champion of the list.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has gone through so much of this that many fans are seriously worried George R.R. Martin will drop dead before he finishes it.
    • He started the series when the opening scene of the Starks discovering the direwolf pups popped into his head, and he found it so intriguing he had to write it down, despite having no idea what he could build on it. As he started putting the world of Westeros together, he decided it could fill three books (titled A Game of Thrones, A Dance with Dragons, and A Dream of Spring). But when he finished Game, he found the world had expanded so much that it could go to four books.
    • Book two, now titled A Clash of Kings, built up the world even further, as Martin just couldn't help himself from digging further and further into the world's politics and introducing more and more characters and societies. By the time this one was finished, he decided even five books wouldn't be enough, and went directly to six as his new goal.
    • Book three, A Storm of Swords, went relatively smoothly, enough to be released only a year after the previous one. The only real issue Martin had was that the infamous Red Wedding twist was so upsetting to him after getting to create these characters and then let them surprise him that he couldn't bring himself to write a word of it until every other part of the book was finished.
    • Book four, A Feast for Crows, is where things start getting really fun. Martin had intended to have it take place after a five year Time Skip, which is why Storm features so many huge, game-changing moments in its final third. But by around halfway through writing the next book, he found that this required so many flashback scenes that the skip was more or less pointless. So he scrapped everything he'd written so far to continue where he'd left off, which now also required developing the skills and knowledge he'd wanted certain characters to have after the skip. Even worse, the amount of storylines and point of view characters had now ballooned to such an extent that the book would have to be ludicrously big to contain everything he intended. So he elected to split it in half, resulting in a so far final count of seven books, and furthermore to only feature half the major characters having their full intended story in each part, rather than leaving them all unfinished at the end of the first half. By the time the book was published it had been five years since the last one, and the splitting of the characters also meant that Feast largely consisted of what many fans found the less compelling stories of the series.
    • Book five was where he finally got back to his original naming scheme with the title A Dance with Dragons. And you’d think it wouldn’t be that hard, given that he’d already written a good deal of the intended story before deciding to split it up. Wrong. He quickly found himself stuck with what he came to call the Meereenese Knot: much of the book’s plots centered around the city of Meereen, which presented him with the problem of how he could handle the various characters arriving at and/or leaving the city, in what order, and in what combinations they needed to be there for the story to work. And meanwhile, his time was also being taken up by the television adaptation of the series, Game of Thrones, in which he would write an episode in each season (and which cheekily contained its own reference to his writing troubles, as the show presents a Meereenese Knot as some highly complicated sex act that not many people can pull off). It was another six years after Feast that Dance finally saw print, and it had a similarly mixed reception complaining that it wasn’t worth the wait.
    • Martin took more than five years to write The Winds of Winter. He’s understandably completely given up on announcing release dates for the books, as they inevitably just piss people off when he fails to deliver on them, and his publishers have had to repeatedly deny rumors that he’s close to being done. He even left off writing an episode for seasons five and six of the show to give him more time for Winds, but it doesn’t seem to have helped much, and it’s anyone’s guess when the book will actually come out...and the wait for A Dream of Spring will begin. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones covered all the published novels and began creating its own stories as it began wrapping up its broadcast run. Plus, even living to 94 couldn't keep Roy Dotrice from dying before he could finish his run on the audiobooks (which gave him the world record for playing the most characters in a single story).
  • The Sunne in Splendour, Sharon Kay Penman's historical novel about the life of Richard III, originated as a 400 page manuscript that was stolen from her car and never recovered. Penman was so devastated by the loss of so much work that she couldn't bring herself to write another word for the next five years, and when she finally worked up the willpower to try to recreate it, it took another twelve years to finish a new manuscript which was more than twice as long.
  • Winston Rawls hated his first draft of Where the Red Fern Grows so much that he threw it into his fireplace. His wife was horrified, as she was convinced it could be regarded as a great piece of literature, and he trusted her enough to create a second draft from memory.


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