Posts on Writing: Building

Maybe, just maybe, I should title this post: Playing Gardner, Playing Architect. Because, honestly, that’s what this post is going to be mostly about. 

Trying to figure out how to describe the two poles of writing is a struggle in itself. Outlining is easy enough to understand. But pantsing? Really? No. Just no. I don’t like that term. 

But what is a good term to use in it’s place? Gardens and structures are well and good, but they are metaphors. So what then?

How about free flowing? No, that is still a bit too metaphorical (flowing being watery, and free too political). What about intuitive? I think that could work. And it does imply an extreme. Let’s go with it.

The gardener and the architect. Intuition and outline. Yes, I think this could work. 

But these are just extremes. And hell, even in these extremes, it is not like there is total stylistic purity.

Fundamentally, a gardener plants seeds and waters, waiting for the plants to emerge. But looking at it from a larger scale, does a gardener not plan out his or her garden? Is there not, perhaps, some element of architecture in the garden? 

And the same goes for architects. Isn’t there some intuitiveness , some chaos in the initial stages of a project? 

What I’m trying to get at is that there is no absolute. There are extremes, yes, but nothing is absolute. Most writers work in the middle, between the two. And as their skills develop, they gravitate to what works best for them. 

And some writers are able to shift back and forth as needed. Want to work in film and television? You need to outline. It is an unavoidable part of the pitching process.

And what does one make of a “head outline?” While George R.R. Martin describes his writing in terms of gardening, it is fairly clear that he has a significant part of A Song of Ice and Fire pre-planned in his head. 

Does outlining equate solely to mapping out the project on paper (or on computer) before the main writing begins?

I will admit that the interplay of outlining and intuition has troubled me in my own work. On the one hand, I naturally gravitate towards outlining. But there is just something “magical” about “channeling” a work without knowing where it will end (baring the head outline). 

Perhaps it depends on the work itself and who is telling the story. What I mean is this: “Who is the narrator?” and “What perspective is this in?” I’ve found outlining in first person perspective to be a pain. Seriously, the best thing is to have a clear head outline and just go. Of course that particular story was first person, present tense. A very crazy experiment, if I do say so myself. 

I have also experienced the sensation of outlining “killing” the desire to see the work progress beyond that phase. And, in experimenting without outlining, I often find the work takes far longer to write. 

At the end of the day, I think the question of how a particular writer writes is best left up to the writer him or herself. And it is important, I believe, to discover what works best on one’s own. Advice can be sought, but method cannot be taught comfortably. 


Posted on May 31, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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