I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if they have planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.
– George R. R. Martin
Last month I was together with five of my best friends and fellow writers. We sat around in a hotel, talking about everything and nothing because we don’t know any other subjects worth spending precious time on when we’re all together. This quote came up.
We all agreed that we didn’t think any writer was all one thing or the other – we need at least a little of both – but my friends shocked me by saying they thought I was more architect than gardener. I have a fairly well-rooted self-image that revolves around my secret identity as Impulsive Girl, that caped avenger that plans no adventure but has a thousand. I have assumed I was a gardener, without ever actually thinking about my process in writing. It didn’t take me long to realize, they weren’t wrong.
It has taken me a long time – four whole weeks – to finally consider that I might want to do something with this new knowledge.
I know I like to plan, but I can only stick with high levels of structure for a day or two. I have a thousand different kinds of outlines – notebooks, flash cards, napkin scraps, computer files – tucked away in my room. I compulsively make these notes, then abandon their structure within forty-eight hours.
Notebooks don’t let me see enough at once. Flash cards can be laid out, but I always wish they were bigger, and… floppier? (That is a non-sensical thought, but I mean it.) Napkin scraps are delightfully wild, but get lost so easily. Computer files lack a tactile interaction that at midnight and 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., I want.
I want space, and order, and room to walk inside it.
And after two hours of thinking about this tonight, I realize, I want a wall.
I want to write my outline on a wall.
I want to draw a giant snaking, boustrophedon line from floor to ceiling and call it my plot.
I think I want to put fat dots along the line and call them chapters, and spiderweb my notes out from them. I want post it notes in bright colors and pens and magic markers (because Sharpies smell, goshdarnnit) and create this giant mural of thought that I can step back from and catch a glimpse of the whole glorious mess. All color and space and things I can touch.
How do you like to outline?