Gardeners and Architects

I’m working on the outline for my new trilogy, and it’s not going well. Summer is such a distraction, isn’t it?! The muse is not amused. I dug this post out of the 2015 archives to give me some inspiration. I hope you enjoy it.


When I plunked down to write my first book, Myths of the Mirror, I was on a mission of discovery, led by the muse and sheer inspiration.

I had no plot in mind beyond a mental sketch of a couple things that could happen maybe sort of somehow. It was all incredibly vague, but what did I know? Nothing. I wrote like a woman obsessed, relishing every moment of my creative forage and traipsing along behind my characters down whatever path they chose to wander.

Halfway through my journey, a secondary character whom I was in the midst of killing off stood his ground. With the unwavering support of his companions, he argued that he should not only survive but should become a main character. “Oh, okay,” I said, and skedaddled back to the beginning of the book to start over. That happened a lot.

A year later, once every character had their say and did as they pleased, my masterpiece was almost 190,000 words long. Ta da! Ready to celebrate, I enlisted a few courageous readers.

Uh oh.

For the next two years, I peeled away words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and whole chapters! Deleted. Recycled. 65,000+ words forever gone. I felt as though I’d been flayed.

Then an editor wielded a red pen and lopped off another 4,000. After all the anguish and suffering, I had to finally admit it – I had a much better book.

Nature-Multicolor-Flowers-Garden-Summer-Bees-Depth-HD-PhotoGeorge R. R. Martin separates writers into Gardeners and Architects. Gardeners are discovery writers, planting seeds and digging around in the dirt of writing because they can’t wait to see what grows. They thrive on a process that is full of surprises and let their stories develop organically. To them, outlines feel like straitjackets, stifling the natural unfurling of character and action.

images (22)At the other end of the spectrum, Martin’s architects are outliners. Structure is key. Charts, graphs, and spreadsheets abound. Every step is planned in advance: the story’s try/fail cycles are mapped, the hero’s journey arcs through its phases, the turning points and pinches are set in stone. For outliners, the steps of each plot and subplot form the stairwells in a skyscraper. An architect has an eye on the penthouse and knows how to get there.

awesome-tree-houses-to-live-in-plextm4bAfter my trials and tribulations as a gardener, I brushed off my hands and applied a bit of architecture to my stories. I wouldn’t say I engineer skyscrapers – that’s still too much concrete for me. In my mind, my method is more akin to building tree-houses, leaving plenty of space for nature and play.

I plot out the story’s threads and set the characters off on their journey, letting them be who they are. Occasionally we have to negotiate and backtrack, but overall they cooperate. It’s collaborative; they know their goals and I know mine.

My guess is that most authors engage in a little gardening while they construct their cottages, fortresses, and stone towers. Or they have a few fences to keep the growing things safe from rabbits. How do you bring stories to life? Are you a Gardener? An Architect? A builder of tree-houses?

175 thoughts on “Gardeners and Architects

  1. Lovely piece! I find myself a building of tree-houses, too. I often have a plan of some sort in mind, with a few specific scenes I know I want to write, but then everything else is organic–it comes after an explore or two. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds so familiar! I’m a bit more of a planner, but I do like to leave lots of room for things to develop organically. I like how we are all different and find our individual blend of structure and freedom. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. dweezer19 says:

    Photographing nature helps my mind to let go of practical things and open up to possibility. Gardening is fun too! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think we see nature in a new way when we photograph – not that I’m any expert at it by any means. Color, texture, composition, light enter our consciousness more deeply. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Happy photographing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. tidalscribe says:

    Definitely a gardener. My first novel, first draft was 325,000 words!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Joanne Sisco says:

    I love the analogy of Gardeners vs Architects. I’ve often wondered how the writer’s inspirational process actually worked. In almost everything I do I tend to compare it to crossing a river on stepping stones. I can see only 2, maybe 3, steps ahead at most, but the path makes itself apparent with each additional step.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. inesephoto says:

    You are one of my favorite gardeners, Diana 🙂 Have a wonderful August!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. cath says:

    What a useful post. I like the George R.R. Martin version so much better than the usual ‘pantser’ description. I’m a gardener – though I hope I make a much tidier job of being a writing gardener than I am horticultural. Though I agree with you, that things are liable to get too muddled if there’s no understanding of architecture.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Vashti Q says:

    Hi Diana! Our stories are very similar. I began my writing journey as a gardener, but now I write a loose outline and allow my characters plenty of freedom, so that the story may grow organically. I do enjoy drawing sketches of my characters and maps of my world and I usually write down in a notebook my characters’ physical descriptions, along with their quirks, habits, and traits, among other things. Great post! I hope you’re enjoying your vacay!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve definitely learned over the years that adding a bit more structure to my “give me freedom or give me death” way of doing things will only benefit my productivity. I’m a gardener studying architecture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the visit! 🙂 And sorry for the late reply – I was on a tech-free vacation. Great comment and I totally agree that some structure is helpful. I love the garden but definitely like a path through it. Happy Writing. I’ll be over soon to say hi.


  9. So delightful! Love this so much. I’m s bit if s bfsrdener but it’s too hot to get out there now!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Your stories never fail to make me chuckle, dear Diana! And teach me many things as well. Characters do have a way to take the reigns off the writers, don’t they?
    I surely hope you get your inspiration back and that the muse becomes amused again 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think we’re all gardeners at first, then we live and try to learn to become architects, if we ever do. I remember my first manuscript. I most re-write it, pruning, pruning … 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, Sebnem. Perhaps that pruning is a big part of the learning curve. I don’t regret the magic of that first foray into the garden at all, but a little less wandering off in the weeds works much better for me now. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. balroop2013 says:

    This is a creative piece and wonderfully presented. Thanks for re-posting it as it inspires as well as reassures that all our hard work is rewarding in the end. It is interesting to note that we all struggle to arrive 🙂 You have!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by to check out the post, Balroop. I do think that its creatively healthy for most of us to explore our individual paths and find out what works – from time of day to pacing to inspiration and writing style. It’s what makes this vocation so exciting. 🙂 Have a lovely August, my friend, and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

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