“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”
― George R. R. Martin
When it comes to planning, what kind of writer are you? George R. R. Martin defined them as gardeners and architects, but they’re also known as “discovery writers” and “outliners”, as well as “pantsers” (as in, flying by the seat of one’s pants) and “plotters” (as in, plotting everything before starting to work).
Whatever you call these types, it’s a spectrum, and all writers fall somewhere on it.
So why is this important? Well, whether or not you care to define yourself with either of those types, you already have a preferred method of working. And that method is defined by the preferred tools in your toolbox. So what if you could be a better (or different — more organized or less restrained) writer by traveling a bit toward the other side of the spectrum? There’s no harm in trying.
First things first, though, let’s establish that there is no “right” way of doing it. Whatever gets the job done is good enough, and there’s more than amount of planning that decides whether the writing is good or not. Second, no one is trying to convince you to abandon whatever side of the divide that you’re on. If you’re happy with the methods you’re using now, keep at them, and you’ll be the master of your domain. But if there’s more than one domain you’d like to master, keep reading.
Check Your Symptoms
Let’s define who you are. You might already be firmly planted in one camp or the other, but if not, check to see which of these you identify with more strongly.
|When you get an idea for something, you don’t jump right in — you develop it. This is because you feel more comfortable when writing a story that has a concrete goal.||Your version of developing an idea is writing it. If you think too much about where it’s going, you get bored.|
|You have world-builder disease — you get so involved with the universe you create, you forget to actually tell a story inside that universe, never mind that there’s no point in the universe existing with no story to tell inside it.||You overwrite and revise like crazy. you’re forced to abandon days and weeks worth of work because you made a tiny change that felt right.|
|For you, planning is rewriting enough. You think that since you planned something thoroughly, your writing is as good as it’s going to get when you’re done typing the last word. You’re often wrong.||For you, the ending is an afterthought — you come up with it when you get there.|
What Can You Learn From the Other Side?
You’re all about minimum risk, setting a safety net for yourself and putting training wheels on your bicycles. How about jumping into the deep end of the pool with no preparation? Create a character and a premise — don’t rely on your crutch of coming up with every single detail about them, though — and come up with the story, free writing style. There’s no pressure to make it publishable, just focus on letting the story tell itself to you.
Come up with one specific goal, shoot towards it, and stick it out till the end. If you feel like correcting course partway, finish what you started, and then re-write it the way you want to. If you’re a hardcore gardener, the biggest thing you’ve got to learn is to just keep going with the story, and not abandon it because you’ve lost the passion.
You Get to Choose Who You Want to Be
Most writers, even though they tend to be more on one side than the other, don’t fall on the extreme ends of the spectrum. So pick the best of both worlds, and instead of drawing hard lines around the camp you fall in, be the most versatile writer you can be, and use every tool at your disposal.