The Gardener vs The Architect

There are many archetypes and personality types that any kind of person could try to shove themselves into in an attempt to categorise the human psyche. I remember at school those who were studying psychology coming out of their lesson and trying to shove labels onto various ticks, habits and phrases that people said as if that spoke some deep held truth about them.

I will make a confession here – I don’t put much stock in personality types or archetypes aside from what you can learn from them.

Personality types are not a one-size fits all model, and they certainly don’t capture every facet of the human condition in one simple test. But it’s sometimes nice to see how your habits align to others, to give a greater understanding of yourself, and how you go about things. And perhaps, you can learn from others, and how other’s do things and go about their habits in their life.

It’s the same in writing, which is why today, I’m talking about the two main writing archetypes that I like to use to describe facets of my creative process: The Gardener and the Architect.

The Archetypes

As a very broad category, the two ends of the spectrum are:

The Architect:

They design the house before they start laying the first brick. They’ll draw up plans, create different designs, measure distances, make things precise before they even take out the building tools. And when they do, they’ll use their design as their bible, building each section of the house in a logical format, room by room, until they’re presented with their finished house.

For the writer, these are the plotters and outliners. They have a structure, and then they have structure inside that structure. Their outline gives them guidance as to where the story will go, which they’ll know before they’ve even started forming the first draft. Then they’ll construct their story piece by piece, slotting it into their structure in the pre-outlined places.

The Gardener:

They design as they go. They’re planting seeds in a boarder and seeing what happens, nurturing the plants and working with what happens next. Maybe they’ll move plants around which aren’t happy in their position – maybe they need more shade or more sunshine. Maybe some need some more water, some need to have a little love, and others just need some space to bloom. It’s less planned, a little more chaotic, and if you asked the gardener what their garden was going to look like in the end, they might have an idea but nothing more concrete.

For the writer, these are the types who write scenes and then starts to piece them together, moving them around as the characters develop and grow as they write more. Ideas are scrapped, plotlines changed, and drafts are re-written numerous times to get the pace and the flow right as they discover what the story really is.

What one are you?

Before you can really learn from others, you need to understand yourself. Either archetype is just as valid as the other, it’s just a different way of getting to the end result.

I’m a solid gardener. For me, if I outline, I lose the passion for the story I want to create. I need to have the (for me) feeling of organic generation of a story, slowly building it up with layers upon layers of changes that start to take shape into something beautiful and unrecognisable.

(plus, I’m a total gardener in my non-writing life, so it’s apt).

Outlining, for me, is a mystery. It’s like a fairy tale – you hear people talking about it and how they structure and plan before they start writing and to me, it just feels totally mind-boggling to do so. Although, saying that, there are times when I’m knee deep in a draft that has had multiple revisions that I wish I could be more of an architect and less of a gardener.

Learning from each other

There is a lot to say about learning from each other. Techniques, lessons, experiences. The world is so complex and vast and beautiful that you can always learn something.

For the purposes of today’s blog, it’s the architects who can learn from their fellow gardeners. And the gardeners (like me) who can learn to add some more structure into their creativity.

Outlining might not be my thing, but I have experimented with a kind of middle ground outlining method that might help other gardeners in their quest for some structure in their writing. What I tend to do is to take the principle of outlining, and then start slotting my pre-written scenes into that framework. For me, I can’t even break it down into chapters, it just has to be a set of sections (normally around five or six) that are good break points in the story that I’ve spent time pouring onto the page. This “sorting out” process might not be outlining in it’s true form (Ie planning before you put pen to paper), but it does help me work out larger themes that have appeared in my story un-expectedly. This gives me some more food for thought to start building more scenes, mostly written off the cuff, but building upon the larger trends that I’ve identified and sorted.

(if you have scrivener, the ability to move sections around is an absolute life saver for this method. But if you have a normal word processing tool, then using headings to split up the sections and moving the section headings around can work too).

After a while from this process, I have a story that kind of hangs together, if you take into account the massive headers of “REWRITE THIS BIT” at the top of each section. It’s as if I can take a step back from the proverbial garden and start to see the shape of what is blooming where, what plants need to be moved to a new home, and really understand what the garden wants to look like.

For those architects, I suggest this method in reverse. If your normal method is detailed outlines before you start a scene, perhaps take a few scenes and try to write them cold without an outline. Maybe they won’t make it into the final draft, but the process might kick start some ideas about other parts of the plot that you might not have considered.

Let me know how you get on!

I’m going to try and use my architect planning skills to really break the back of my book before Nanowrimo. It’s been a year since I wrote the first (my winning book for Nanowrimo last year), and I really want to get the whole book planned before then. And even though I know Nanowrimo “should” be used for new projects, my plan is to use it to get words on the page and finish 1 draft of my WIP. Once I’m there, I can say I have finished my first novel, which given that it is likely to clock in at over 150k words, will be the longest single story I’ve ever written.

(and then the editing begins. But we don’t focus on that bit yet).

Good luck to all you gardener’s and architects! Let me know in the comments what kind of writer you are, and let me know how you get on with trying some techniques from the other side of the proverbial writing fence!

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