Editorial | Organizers and Explorers: Two Schools of Writing

There are two types of people in this world…  Ok, ok, there are many types of people in the world, but there are two schools of thought when it comes to writing.  Whether they write short stories, full length novels, academic research, or blog posts, most authors either are organizers or explorers.

Organizers believe in brainstorming before they begin writing.  They know the direction in which they want to take their readers before they jump into the meat of their prose.  I personally enjoy this method most—especially in more formal writing.  If I don’t have an endgame in mind, it is difficult to get my writing to move from the beginning to the end at a decent pace.  George R. R. Martin, Therefore I Geek’s man of the month as we gear up for the premier of Game of Thrones Season 4, describes these writers as architects.

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the explorers. 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… “

Brandon Sanderson

The benefits to organizing are obvious.  The author knows exactly where he is going.  He may start with a bare bones outline and begin to add sub-points or blocks of text.  If he gets stuck on one point, it is much easier to move on to the next point or section of the story.  I often have short bursts of inspiration that don’t fit where I currently am in my writing.  As an organizer with a penchant for outlines, I find it easy to take a break from the parts of my project that I’m in the middle of and quickly jot down the bits that have sprung into my brain.  From there it is just a matter of fitting that section under the correct bulleted heading.

Unfortunately, the downside to having a detailed plan is that the author may feel like he’s already written the story, and may get bored of his work before it is complete.  This has happened to me several times.

One famous outliner is Brandon Sanderson, author of The Way of Kings, and the brand new Words of Radiance.

The other type of writer is an explorer.  These writers follow where their personal inspiration takes them, no matter how many twists and turns that entails.  It is less that they have an endgame in mind, and more that they trust their ability to come to a conclusion when the time is right.  G. R. R. Martin describes them as gardeners, “The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if they 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

Explorers have an easier time of writing in that they don’t feel as much pressure to know where their plot line is going and under what conditions.  This style of writing is very story driven, and can feel more natural to the writer.

Unfortunately, the exploration style of writing can also lead to stymied authors, who have run into writer’s block, and cannot take a break to write another portion of their work, because they don’t know where the work is going.

Which type of writer is George R. R. Martin?  “I’m much more a gardener than an architect,” he tells fans


Filed under Books, Editorial, Tracy Gronewold

4 responses to “Editorial | Organizers and Explorers: Two Schools of Writing

  1. Reblogged this on The Writing Catalog and commented:
    I was over at Therefore I Geek reading their grand announcement and found this. (They’re getting into podcasting; the announcement’s reblogged at Sourcerer). I am an organizer, for sure, but with fiction, I try to keep the organization loose enough to use exploration. That’s one of my problems with fiction. As a writer, I’m just not that good at using the techniques of an explorer. What do you think? And does this cover it, or do we need more categories than this? I find it useful, but I always have to ask that question when I see something as big as writing divided into two categories. Probably because I’m an organizer.

  2. My problem is that I’m an explorer, and I’m waaaay better with beginnings and endings than middles. So I tend to get a third of the way into a project and then die. It sucks.

    • I was told once that I would not be able to write a good story ending until I had experienced more endings in my real life. I think that was good advice, but I still cannot write a good story ending! -t

  3. Pingback: Posts I loved this week | Taylor Grace

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