An Apology to Pat Rothfuss

About five and a half years ago, my friend BJ Homer introduced me to two wonderful books by Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. I devoured these books. I describe them to people by saying they are novel equivalent of Chekhov’s gun: nothing in them is irrelevant. They are some of the most intricate, complex, and deep novels I’ve ever read. I’ve probably spent more time analyzing the story of these two books than I have on Brandon Sanderson’s entire Cosmere.

The problem, of course, is that it’s supposed to be a trilogy. Book 3 (or “Day 3” as it’s colloquially known) is missing. There’ve been rumors about it for years, but there’s no clue if or when it’ll be done and published.

The Case of the Missing Rothfuss Novel makes a lot of people (me included!) very anxious. We want to know what happens. But for some reason, whenever it gets brought up, people tend to react very violently; they get extremely defensive about it. They shut down all conversation about it, and somehow insinuate that you’re a bad person for wanting to know. But I’d never really heard a good explanation for why people get so defensive about it. It always just seemed like it was an 11th commandment: Thou shalt not ask Pat about Book 3.

This past Tuesday I had the privilege of volunteering at Brandon Sanderson’s book signing for his most recent book, and one of the perks of being a volunteer at these things is getting some private Q&A time with him. Over the course of the conversation, Pat came up, and I asked Brandon about his thoughts on the radio silence from Pat about book 3. What he said really struck me.

There are two general kinds of writers: outliners and discovery writers. Outliners know the story ahead of time and write it down and create outlines (this is what Brandon does). The other kinds, “discovery writers”, start writing and “discover” the story as they go. For discovery writers, a lot of the thrill comes from the discovery itself.

As a programmer, this resonates a lot with me. I tend to be a “discovery programmer”. I have an idea for code, and the thrill of writing the code and discovering the nuances of the idea are what excite me. I don’t tend to get very excited about shipping code, or even making a final, polished product. I love to explore ideas.

The point that Brandon made is that this thrill of discovery dies if you talk about your ideas. If I have a brilliant idea for some code and I tell someone about it, I’m no longer really interested in actually writing the code, because the act of talking about it with someone else has become the discovery. The conversation is the discovery, and actually writing the code becomes grunt work.

Pat, Brandon pointed out, falls more as a discovery writer. Talking about Book 3 makes him un-excited to actually write it, because the discovery of the story he wants to tell happens in the conversation.

So, Pat, if you end up reading this: I’m sorry. I want you to be excited about Book 3, so that you can write the best book you possibly can. I’m going to stop asking about it. I’m going to stop being annoyed when people say that we shouldn’t ask about it, because I get it. I honestly hope it comes soon (who doesn’t??), but I’m not going to ask when. I’m just going to sit back, read a whole bunch of other stuff, and hope that someday you finish it. And on that day, I’ll happily and immediately preorder it.