Posted by: francesthomas | May 20, 2011

Architect or Gardener? Colin Parsons

In writing terms as an author myself, I thought this dual analysis of how a writer works was spot on.

The above title is a quote from the American author George R.R. Martin. He has written a five book series called:
A Song of Ice & Fire. His first book has been adapted for television as the series; Game of Thrones.

He said in an interview that there are two types of writer (in his opinon): The Architect and the Gardener.

An Architect he said knows his/her stuff from start to finish. He knows the layout of the building; where the plumbing and electricity goes. He knows from the ground up, how many rooms and floors there are going to be. He finally has a picture in his head of what the building will look like when it’s done.

The Gardener on the other hand, he said, starts with a seed that is planted in the soil as an idea. When it’s going to grow, the gardener has to wait and see. It’s not an exact science as to how big the plant will be and what shape it will really take on. It has a life of its own, unlike an Architect’s work that has to have everything exactly right.

I must admit that as a writer I am a Gardener rather than an Architect. I never know what shape my story will take until I start on the journey.

Some authors like to know where they are going, especially the end product. For me when my readers get to the end of my books they are as excited as I was writing it.

Obviously everyone has their own opinion on writing. The way George R.R. Martin sees it though, is the way in which I’ve always seen it too.

What do you think?

Colin Parsons

posted by Frances Thomas for Colin Parsons



  1. I’m definitely a gardener. Organised chaos. Like my real garden. My real garden always needs more doing to it, but it looks pretty at the moment. I hope my writing always works out in the end, too.
    (But I have a secret envy for those organised architects!)

  2. How about a landscape gardener? I’m probably more of a gardener than an architect, but I like to have an outline plan before I start, which sometimes ends up being superseded (or super-seeded, as we’re talking about gardens!) as the story and characters – inevitably I would imagine – take on a life of their own.

  3. I think you need a bit of each, or you waste a lot of time meandering around! I wouldn’t normally set out on a journey without knowing where I’m going or how to get there, but I do enjoy wandering and exploring as a way of uncovering new territory. That’s a different metaphor to play with!

    Characters tend to develop a life of their own, yet the objective of producing a saleable book means the protagonists have to be given sympathetic characteristics for example. There has to be conflict and structure, so you need to understand the dynamics of the materials you’re working worth and how they fit together. For architecture it is about managing structural stress so the edifice doesn’t collapse. For a novel the equivalent is suspense and drama to keep interest. For buildings and gardens the result must be aesthetically pleasing, and for a novel it must be well told and have that /wow/ factor.

    In gardening I’m always weeding… in writing the weeds are padding and the wrong stylistic language.

    In the end, I’m looking for harmony of the total impression… too often I try to achieve too much and plant too many things together! Now, all I need is someone to harvest my produce, or lease my building…!

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