Are You an Architect or a Gardener?
We all have different personalities, and these traits lead to different preferences in all aspects of our lives. For instance, some people will organize their closets by color, others by type of clothing, and still others will leave their clothes in a pile on the floor. None of these methods are necessarily better than the others as long as they allow someone to easily find clean clothes to wear each day.
Similarly, writers also have different personalities and preferences about how to approach their writing. There’s a whole spectrum of writing approaches, but most writers agree that there are two extreme camps: outlining and discovery writing. To be the most effective writer you can be, you'll need to understand where you fit in along this spectrum so you can maximize the benefits that each style offers.
So, let’s go over what each approach entails and how writers can mix and match these styles throughout the writing process.
Outliners are often called “architects” or “planners.” Planners like to outline everything before they write, just like an architect draws a detailed blueprint before a structure is built. Knowing where they're going gives these writers confidence and helps them avoid getting "writer's block" before they've even started.
Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash.
How do you know if you’re an outliner? You might get a little panicked when you see a blank page. When you ask yourself where your story is going next, you might think, “I don’t know! That’s the problem!”
Additionally, if you’ve enjoyed planning out other activities or aspects of your life and like figuring out puzzles, you’ll probably prefer creating an outline for your book. Even more, if you work best when you have a schedule to follow or specific tasks to carry out, following your outline as you write should come naturally to you.
Discovery writers are also known as “gardeners” or “pantsers.” Pantsers like to write by the seat of their pants, making up the story as they go. They find a thrill in discovering what happens next as they write. Discovery writers don’t usually have much more than perhaps a climax or ending in mind as they write, much like how gardeners don’t typically plan out where each specific flower will take root.
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.
So if you get excited rather than worried when you wonder where your story is going and can’t wait to fill up that blank page, you’re probably a discovery writer! If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to get bogged down in the details or who likes to tackle other parts of life with spontaneity, you’ll likely excel in discovering your story as you write it.
Mix and Match
While you may have identified particularly with one or the other of these writing approaches, you might have also felt like you could relate to both styles. In fact, most writers are not only gardeners or only architects; in reality, all writers have at least a little of both outliner and discovery writer in them. Both approaches have valuable strategies and processes, and you can incorporate both into your writing process!
If you're not sure which type of writer you are, try experimenting with both styles in different parts of the writing process to see which approach motivates you most. As you experiment, you’ll find the right mix for you.
For instance, while you might enjoy outlining your plot, you might not enjoy that same structure for developing your characters and setting. If this is the case, you’ll benefit from using discovery writing techniques to build your characters and setting. On the other hand, you might truly enjoy creating a detailed outline of your setting (more posts on #worldbuilding to come!), and thus enjoy exploring this rich world with your characters through discovery writing.
There are so many ways to combine the different approaches of outlining and discovery writing—about as many ways as there are writers! So have fun trying out both styles, and comment to share which strategies most help you. Any #discoveryoutliners out there?