What Type of Story Gardener Are You?

How often have you answered the question, “Are you a pantser or a plotter?” with “I’m a bit of both” or “I’m somewhere in the middle”, or something along that line?

In this video, at around the 50:30 mark, you can listen to Carrie Vaughn and Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones) author George RR Martin discussing their approaches to writing and referring to “architects” and “gardeners”, which is an analogy Martin has used before instead of “plotter” and “pantser”. Presuming Martin is referring to landscape architecture (as opposed to building architecture, which would make less sense used as a metaphor alongside gardening) this analogy gives us a spectrum of different writing approaches, rather than the more dualistic argument of pantsing versus plotting.

The Landscape Architect

Like a professional landscape architect who has to produce an extremely detailed blueprint of their proposed design, sometimes down to the actual species and number of plants that are to be planted in each section, the author on this end of the spectrum first plans out their book in great detail. This might particularly apply to a non-fiction author who has to get approval from a publisher, or a traditionally-published fiction author sending in a proposal for several books in a series. Authors of fantasy, science fiction, and historical novels might also be in this group due to the world-building and research aspects of these genres. If you enjoy developing character profiles/biographies, in-world encyclopedias, and what I like to call fictionaries (fictional dictionaries) pertaining to the world of your book(s) then you might fit somewhere in this section.

The Landscape Gardener

A little more hands-on from the beginning, this author creates a relatively quick sketch before digging in to the work itself. This author probably has a lot of experience and now knows where they can take shortcuts. Like a landscape gardener who takes soils samples in order to work with or alter the pH of the soil or the drainage conditions, authors in this column continually analyse their market and know their genre extremely well.

The Sculpture Gardener

Like the artists in charge of beautiful public and private manor gardens which require a great deal of vision and a lot of time pruning and shaping and attention to symmetry and elegance, these authors spend a lot of time on rewriting and editing to create a true work of art.

The Botanical Gardener

These authors pay strict attention to themes and/or accuracy. They might collect notes on, or write about, a bit of everything, but they are well organised and logical in their output.

The Farmer

Working hard to produce a large volume of nourishing work that brings in an income, writers in this field might be producing articles, text books, early reader books, quick chapter book series, or even what was called “pulp” fiction in the past. To be this prolific requires a solid system, professional tools, and commitment to regular high-quality writing that needs as little editing as possible. Farmers cannot operate without the back-up of their families or paid staff since this kind of workload leaves little time for distractions such as holidays, leisure time, or even housework.

The Vegetable Gardener

Perhaps less prolific than the farmer, these are authors who are working to produce books as quickly as possible, but they also have pesky loads of laundry to deal with. Concentrating on getting the words right as much as possible in the first draft can help to cut down on time-consuming rewrites, getting those books out to harvest on a regular cycle.

The Constant Gardener

This is the writer who must write, who cannot breathe without writing. Daily “morning pages” are like fresh air. Getting words on the page is the only goal. But with all this time immersed in the work, this author notices everything that needs attention and the necessary pruning and shaping happens organically. Just as new projects arise out of this gardener’s awareness of how their garden is used and enjoyed by others, so the author using this approach understands what their readers want and need and tries to bring joy and usefulness into being by the way they shape their works.

The Weekend Gardener

Like the average person with a day job who escapes into their garden on the weekend, these authors have other commitments that leave them only a very specific window of time in which to write. These authors would benefit from keeping detailed notes and a solid planning system so that they can easily pick up where they left off and get writing. It also pays to aim for clean copy in the early drafts to avoid spending precious hours on rewriting and editing.

The Cottage Gardener

The cottage gardener doesn’t do much planning, instead choosing plants mostly on a whim or through long experience and trial and error. They may be set in their ways, or willing to plant anything once. They might take cuttings from plants in a friend’s garden. Likewise, the cottage author is attracted to a variety of different genres, doesn’t plan much beyond the initial idea and perhaps the ending, may abandon a work-in-progress in favour of a new idea, and usually prefers to let the characters and story develop organically through the writing process. Some might enjoy writing fan fiction, or building upon classical stories and motifs, or collaborating with a co-author or illustrator.

The Wildflower Gardener

This author does no planning whatsoever. They arrive on the garden of their page and scatter the seeds that come in the moment. The plants of their words are allowed to grow where they will and the author does little more than the equivalent of watering, nourishing, and any obvious weeding (always bearing in mind that what looks like a weed today might be the prize of the garden in a few weeks). The wildflower author is content to soak up the beauty of placing words on the page and enjoy the surprise of what those words become. Many poets find themselves in this column.

Over to you. Have I left any gardeners out? Where do you fit in such a spectrum? Has this given you (ahem) food for thought? Are you using the most beneficial writing approach for the body of work you’re trying to produce and the time and resources you have to work with? Do you need to consider a different approach?


Does Compute… Sometimes

Word 4 WritersThe past few months I've been flat out getting Word 4 Writers ready for re-launch and updated to Word version 2010. I'm really pleased that it is all coming together again. Ironically, it was Word itself that almost made me give up on Word 4 Writers.

Word does not do graphics well. Including more than a few graphics blows the file size out to huge proportions. On top of that, screenshots are memory-hungry files too. So back in 2005 when I wrote the first Word 4 Writers E-Guide I had to shut down every non-essential program on my computer in order to work on my mammoth 200MB document. Opening this document took ten minutes while each page loaded and touching anything while it was doing so would result in the blue screen of death. I think I only just managed to print the final document to .pdf in time before Word decided that file had erred fatally and deserved termination. All my attempts to update Word 4 Writers since have been suffocated by frustration.

Until the teaching bug bit again this year when I bought a much-needed new laptop. My old one's equals and delete keys died: the loss of the first is a nightmare when you need to write html, the second when you want to write anything at all. And I started feeling my way around Word 2007. I learn something and I turn around and teach it; that was the first "ping".

The second "ping" was opening the old .pdf file of Word 4 Writers (I still can't open the .doc file) and finally seeing the bigger picture. This was Word for Writers, not Word for business. I have to admit that the first Word 4 Writers was still ingrained in the mindset of business letters and annual reports. After all, I'd been using Word for just that up until a few months before I sat down to create a course for writers. So, now, I grabbed a good dose of mental thunder and lightning and reorganised the material around exactly what it is that writers do when they click that Word icon. Or should be doing.

The third "ping" occurred while I was surfing the Internet and put a couple of ideas together that I'd found, most notably on CopyBlogger, one of my current favourite resources (thanks Sonia 😉 ). If I offered Word 4 Writers as a course delivered weekly I could start teaching as soon as the first few modules are ready. One of my biggest problems is motivation, and my best motivation comes from someone else relying on me for something. So now I have my charter students and the motivation to deliver one bite-size module per week. And I really can do this.

This post has gone on rather longer than I'd planned and the point of it was supposed to be to list the current Word and Computer-related articles on HearWriteNow:

Keyboard Shortcuts

How to Create Your Own Bookplates

Word Processing Shortcuts for Character Names

Editing with Track Changes and Comments

Shorten Your Synopsis Using Word

Viewing Your Notes and Manuscript Together

Removing Unwanted Formatting From Your Manuscript

Do You Need Writing Software?

I'd love to hear what else you need to know about Word. I want to create a library of tips, so fire away with your questions.

This is the final week that Charter Membership of Word 4 Writers is open. The price per month will go up on the 1st August.


Tools of the Trade

Grammar ToolsThere seems to be an uproar in social media spheres at the moment - over grammar, of all things. Actor John Cusack has been villified for making typos while Tweeting to his fans via his iPhone. Sounds like he has chubby finger syndrome.

For writers, though, language and how it is used is the core of our profession. We have to worry about grammar; everything from using it correctly to using it too correctly.

Here are the current grammar-related articles on HearWriteNow.


The Comma Denominator

Straight Up... with a Twist

The Comma According to Trask
There are only four specific uses for a comma. Are you using yours correctly?

Ten Most Irritating Grammar Errors
Laying down the law, and other tales of deconstruction

Proofreading and Editing
The Proof is in the Editing

You're the Voice
Active voice, passive voice, and stative sentences

Basic Proofreading Tips
"But Proofreading is the Editor’s Job"

Bending Grammar Rules in Fiction
Playing with fragments

External Stories

Working with Tenses
Keep a tight rein on the past and present

John Cusack Faces Off With Twitter Grammar 'Trolls'
Five Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Dumb by Brian Clark

Rhythm is Gonna Get Ya
Are you a bit too partial to participles?

Modify with care