Of Gardeners and Architects: Story Writing Approaches

I’ll be 39 years old on the upcoming weekend. Why do I mention this? Specifically, because I promised myself I’d write my first book by the time I was forty. And given I’ll be publishing my first book, Ethereal Malignance, this year, I think I’ll make that deadline fairly readily.

So why did I wait until I was nearly forty before publishing my first book? Well, a number of reasons, but a really important one was that I didn’t understand the writing process my brain needs in order to write effectively.

What am I talking about specifically? Anyone in the online writing community will be already familiar with this, but just so everyone’s on the same page, I’m talking about whether an author is the type to plan ahead before writing or to just start writing. In authors’ parlance, this can be referred to as ‘plotters’ and ‘pantsers’ — the former plot out their work before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and the latter ‘write by the seat of their pants’, that is to say spontaneously.

Neither strategy is superior to the other, and it’s more to do with how a particular author’s brain is wired as to what works best for them. There are some benefits and drawbacks to each technique, though, as I’ve detailed below (note that this is not an exhaustive list):





Can minimise writer’s block.
Can better identify plot holes and inconsistencies earlier.
Can have a more efficient drafting process.
Can have a more streamlined developmental editing process.

Can take a lot of time and effort before any writing has even begun.
Can be less exciting than discovering the story on the fly.
Can feel more like work rather than a creative endeavour.


Can promote creative freedom.

Can lead to twists that surprise even the author.

Can allow for greater flexibility and adaptability.

Can start drafting without delay.

Can lead to writer’s block.

Can result in plot holes and inconsistencies that aren’t identified until much later.

Can result in a slower drafting process.

Can result in a more arduous developmental editing process.

Examples of plotters includes John Grisham and Michael Crichton, and examples of pantsers are Stephen King and George R.R. Martin.

Please note, of course, I’m speaking generalities and that every writer is different. Also, since binaries don’t typically exist in nature, most people will sit somewhere on the spectrum between the two (I’ve heard of the term ‘plantser’ for someone partly plans, partly ‘pantses’ it. And Stephen King, for example, is an extremely prolific and speedy writer, despite not planning ahead.

There are other terms for these types of writers. “Discovery writer” is a nicer way of saying “pantser”, for example, whereas George R.R. Martin prefers likening the approaches to those of an architect vs. a gardener.

So where do I sit on this? I’m an irredeemable plotter. And the reason I didn’t start writing until my late 30s, apart from not having a creative writing background, was because I didn’t understand this key difference in approaches to writing and I tried to ‘pants’ my first attempts at writing. And spontaneous writing just doesn’t work with the way my brain works. However, having said that, I don’t sit down with a plan right at the start of the creative process: I tend to wait until my brain has given me enough ideas to rope into a coherent plan. That said, I’ll talk more about this later.

The article for today grew far larger than I was intending, and to do it justice (and not bore people with a giant wall of text), I’m going to split it into two parts: this can be considered the introduction, and next week I’ll go into more detail about my particular writing process for anyone who might be interested.

Please feel free to send me your thoughts or questions on the community page.


Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay.