Some time ago a writing mentor explained to me that the brains of writers are split into two categories: The Architects and The Gardeners. Architects are meticulous planners. If you ask to take a peak through their prep material you’ll find detailed character notes matched succinctly with plot outlines. They carefully plan and build their stories, piece by piece, from the ground up. Ask to see a Gardener’s prep material and they’ll offer some quip about how they had a notebook somewhere, once. Gardeners generally opt to discovery write or “pants” it, forgoing a detailed plan to the finish. They sow their plot and character seeds and go where the reaping is plenty, hoping that path will eventually take them to the end.
I have yet to find an author who would describe their core writing style as anything other than some variation of an architect or a gardener. (If you’re out there and reading this, definitely drop a comment below.) If you’ve been writing for any small amount of time you probably have a good idea of which group you fall into. You might also have an idea of how hellish it can be trying to use the opposite writing style. Almost like trying to eat peas with a fork in your non-dominant hand.
So, obviously, I’m going to try switching writing styles.
My Writing Style
My natural writing style is that of the Gardener. For as long as I can remember my long-form writings have all started with the image or idea of a single scene. So I write that scene. If I don’t like it, I move on to something else. If I do like it, I write the next scene and the next scene and so on and so forth. Eventually I organically come to know the characters involved. I like this because it’s like getting to know someone in real life. Over time and through a lot of observation and conversation you get to the point where you can predict how the person/character will react. But regardless of how well you know someone, they always have the potential to surprise you.
That’s where the good stuff happens. Actually all of my best writing has come as a result of these experiences. It’s like the writing takes over and you’re just the lucky medium through which the story tells itself.
Why Not Gardening
I just mentioned the best thing about being a gardener. Here’s my beef:
Sometimes you get halfway through a novel and all of a sudden you hit a wall. Or the character or story takes over and leads you to a place that confuses or muddles the plot. Other times your scenes slowly begin to fade into something less fun and exciting. As with actual gardening, sometimes you plant seeds and the only thing to pop up is a withered and stunted version of the plant you wanted. Or, for apparently no reason at all, nothing grows.
As a writer telling a story you have to know where you’re going. Writing without an endgame, in my opinion, is nearly impossible. The big problem with gardening is you rarely know exactly how you’re going to get there. While the unexpected journey that is the writing style of a gardener can often yield amazing results, it is equally likely you’ll end up somewhere with little idea of how to get back to the endgame.
A perfect example of this is George R.R. Martin and his series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Martin is arguably the most famous gardener I’ve ever heard of. He’s actually talked a lot about his writing style and the pitfalls of it. The extended amount of time between the release of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons was a result of this type of pitfall. This delay was a direct result of Martin having written himself into a corner and not knowing how to get out of it. Many of Martin’s readers refer to this as his struggle with the Meereneese Knot. It is also largely suspected that he is struggling with this yet again, which is why we have yet to see The Winds of Winter.
If you’re a gardener you will inevitably share in this experience. You will share in it a lot. It is, to my knowledge, unavoidable.
How to Architect
So how do I transition my writing style from that of a gardener to an architect?
After nearly 700 words you’d think that I would have had an answer to this question by the time I got here. I thought I would too. Actually, this post originally had a nice and organized outline. I even posted it on my Connor Griffin Writes Instagram account.
I’ll spare you the details but that outline lasted about 10 minutes before getting tossed aside.
It just goes to show you how hard it is to change your writing style.
All I know is that the reflection I did after deciding to put my long-time WIP Mountain Division on the shelf revealed that I really struggled with not having a detailed road map to show me how to get to the ending I have planned. It’s my goal to eventually return to Mountain Division and create carve out that path. But before I can do that, I have to hone my skills as an architect.
This transition is one that I will be working on for many months to come. I don’t know a lot about how it will go but I figure there will be a lot of discomfort, anxiety, and frustration along the way. But if writing this long has taught me anything, this is a game full of ebbs and flows. Where frustration and stagnation abound, the minimum amount of reprieve and success needed to continue will inevitable appear at the last second and sustain you.
If you have any tips, tricks, or resources you use as an Architect please drop a comment below! Also if you’ve ever intentionally transitioned your writing style I want to hear about that as well.
Until next time,