How to Write Efficiently: Gardener or Architect
Have you ever wondered how to write efficiently? How do you utilize your writing time so you get the most out of it? Why is it that sometimes you sit down at your computer to write and find that no words come? Have you ever felt like you are in a state of perpetual writer’s block?
I struggle with writer’s block. I often struggle with conveying a character’s motivation, fixing gaping plot holes, or lacking motivation. Writer’s block means different things to different people, but in it’s most basic form, it is simply inefficient or nonexistent writing. So how do we combat writer’s block?
First, let’s examine different methods of writing.
I come from a family of gardeners. Last summer, my grandmother had a problem with violets. Violets are one of those plants that tend to take over a garden and run wild in every direction. Sometimes a garden is a wild, untamed thing, and some of the most beautiful gardens are the ones where plants thrive outside of neatly manicured rows.
A gardener can also refer to a writer who likes to sit down and start a story without knowing the end of the story. The gardener writes unburdened by the expectations of a plot outline. A gardener is more commonly called a pantser because they like to “write by the seat of their pants.” These writers are primarily character focused. Gardeners write to discover the story. They structure their plots around the motivations of their characters. Stories written this way tend to feel natural. The plot is determined by the action of the characters rather than a preset plot. Stories written by gardeners tend to feel alive and populated by real people.
However, gardeners tend to have a lot of what I call waste words. A gardener has to discover the story and the characters. This means a large amount of editing and rewriting. During the rewrite stage, pages upon pages could get deleted because the author decided to take the story in a different direction. Gardeners can lack focus. A badly written story by a gardener will have tangents and lots of unexplored plot promises.
The specific kind of writer’s block that gardeners are prone to are plot holes. Because gardeners write no outline, the plot can suffer. Stories written this way can have a hard time finding an ending or a compelling middle.
Despite these flaws, there have been many successful authors that use this method of writing.
Some famous gardeners are Pierce Brown, author of the Red Rising Series, and Stephen King.
The bestselling author David Morrell said about writing, “often the story knows better than I do what it wants to be.”
Another well-known author J.A. Jance said, “I don’t plan. I don’t outline. I have hated outlines since sixth grade geography, and I can’t do Roman numerals.”
From the first ferris wheel to the modern skyscrapers and bridges that we have today, architects can create seemingly impossible buildings.
When it comes to writing, the architect is a planner. No self-respecting architect sits down to write without an extensive outline. The architect won’t start a book until he or she knows the ending and everything in-between. Architects are more commonly called plotters because they like to lay out a detailed plot before they start writing. Architects are plot focused.
The flaws within this method of writing are the strengths of the gardener. Stories written by an architect can feel stiff as if the integrity of the characters was sacrificed for the sake of the predetermined plot. Sometimes having a rigid outline will not give the story room to grow and breathe. Architects can struggle with making characters seem real.
The architect’s writer’s block tends to be character based. An architect is more likely to struggle with the motivations of his or her characters. Sometimes an architect might pause and think: I need this to happen, but why would my character do this?
The strength of the architect is that they theoretically have less “waste words” because they know where their book is going from the start. Despite these flaws, there are many successful authors who write this way.
Brandon Sanderson, a well-known epic fantasy author, and Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code are both architects along with famous names like J. K. Rowling and E.L. Stein.
Short story author Katherine Anne Porter said “If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin. I always write my last line, my last paragraph, my last page first.”
Books written this way can be written more efficiently, but is the quality better? Which method is better? How can authors use something that has the benefits of both without the cons?
Be Like Frederick Olmstead
Frederick Olmstead was one of the most prominent landscape architects of his time. He designed New York City’s Central Park and landscape for Chicago’s World Fair. While Olmstead was a careful planner, he attempted to create gardens that looked natural. As a landscaper, he was both a gardener and an architect.
The answer to the writing quandary is simple; be a little of both. The best of both worlds requires some planning, but how much planning is up to the writer. I like to have the big plot points like the beginning and the end planned out, but how I get from point A to point B is often a mystery. Sometimes as I write, I naturally discover side characters, and what they do changes the plot. I have learned that I shouldn’t be so committed to my outline that I can’t change it and that, while writing without an outline can be fun, I have a hard time making a coherent story without knowing the ending.
Aristotle said “Plot is character revealed by action.” One needs both plot and character strengths in order to write a good book. While nothing can solve writer’s block completely, hopefully learning about different writing methods can help you write more efficiently. Which kind of writer are you?
About the Author
Rebecca Lawrence is an English student currently completing an internship with Christian Indie Publishing Association and plans to pursue a career as a literary agent after she graduates in December.