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The architect and the gardener

David Gane
David Gane
2 min read

George R.R. Martin has been often quoted saying that he believes there are two types of writers: the architect and the gardener:

"The architect plans everything in advance. He draws up his blueprint. He knows where the plumbing is going to run, he knows how many rooms there is going to be, what exactly square footage of each room is. Everything is finalized before you dig the hole in the ground or drive the first nail. The gardener may know the general shape of the garden he wants but still, he's digging a hole in the ground and planting a seed. He has some idea what's going to come up. The gardener knows whether he's planted an oak tree or whether he's planted a radish. So, it's not totally random, but, you know, is the oak tree going to be a healthy oak tree, is it going to be wind-blown, is lightning going to strike. There's a lot that goes to chance and to other elements with the gardener. The garden is a living thing. I think it's the same with writers. All writers are a mixture of both, but some lean much more heavily to one side than the other. There's no doubt I lean much more heavily to the gardener side."

On the other hand, Brian Sanderson sees himself more as an architect:

"I tend to be what we call an architect, an outline writer. That’s George [R. R. Martin]’s term, architect versus gardener. Gardeners nurture a book and shepherd it along, and they’re never quite sure when it’s done. Architects tend to do a lot of that work in free writing, so the uncertain point comes when we’re planning. And when we’re writing, we tend to be more certain where it’s going and have already worked out some of those problems. Not always, but usually. And so it allows us to have a better instinct for when the book’s going to be done, because by the time we’re writing it, it’s a matter of It’s this many pages most likely, and I’m this percent of the way through the outline."

A while ago, I played with a similar idea with Story Gardening.

After coming across the note-taking system of Zettelkasten, I wondered if I couldn't apply a similar process to fiction writing:

"As I pursue my interests and add them to my slip-box, I may discover story ideas as well. They may come in small snippets of dialogue or action, or “what if” questions. This work leads to more research and more connections, essentially allowing you to grow your story."

Steph Smith uses an alternative form of slip-notes to grow her writing called idea arbitrage:

After creating an outline, I enter the fourth stage: Idea Arbitrage﹣my personal favourite. Despite the ridiculous name I’ve chosen for this stage, I ultimately feel as though this is the part of my process which makes my articles stand out.

In this stage, I simply let the article sit. I let the creative juices in my passive brain marinate and be stimulated by just about anything.

If I run into an interesting tweet or quote or tidbit from an article, I’ll make sure to add it to the right outline. I do this for literally weeks or even months, until I feel like I’ve crafted a unique point of view.

Are there any other forms of story gardening that come to mind?

David Gane Twitter

Co-writer of the Shepherd and Wolfe young adult mysteries, the internationally award-winning series, and teacher of storytelling and screenwriting.