Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Writing Intentionally: Gardners

Continuing last week's theme on writing intentionally, what do you do if you're a discovery writer? How do you write intentionally if you can't really figure out your intentions until you've written the story and can look back over the ground you've covered to see the path that ties it all together?

Briefly, you should know where the story is going. There are certainly writers who start with an intriguing character or an interesting setting and develop a story around that nucleus. But if you don't have some idea of where the story is headed, you're more likely to meander.

Brandon Sanderson says he prefers the labels gardener and architect instead of discovery and outline writers. I think there's something important in the occupational analogy.

Calling discovery writers, "gardeners," addresses the fallacy that you don't have to plan ahead but can simply jump in as start writing. Gardeners don't simply throw seed out and wait to see what comes up. Based on their understanding of varieties and growing conditions, they plan which things to plant in different parts of the garden. Similarly, there's a fair amount of forethought that goes into deciding what kind of garden you want to grow. Is it a flower garden that will offer a changing canvas of shapes and colors as the season progresses? Or is the produce you'll harvest the main purpose of the garden?

Of course the gardener doesn't know whether a given seed will sprout and grow as intended. So they plant more than one. And they cultivate the garden, weeding, watering, and fertilizing, to make the desired outcome more likely.

So if you think of yourself as a discovery writer, try approaching your project as a gardener, accepting the fact that there's preparatory work to do. And even though there's a lot you don't know, if you take a little time to  plan your garden and prepare the soil, you'll find your ability to write intentionally grows--like your garden.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Image: Simon Howden /

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