I’m always interested in how other people write, so I loved this analogy from Ian Beck, illustrator and children’s author. He was speaking at last weekend’s Federation of Children’s Book Groups Conference and I was lucky enough to be in the audience.
He spoke of writers as either gardeners or architects. An architect makes blueprints and models, and work proceeds from these. Everything is planned in advance, and in detail. The finished building is (fore)seen before construction begins.
A gardener, on the other hands, plants a seed, waters it and waits to see what happens. The seed grows, and changes as it does so. Hopefully, it flourishes.
Ian said that he is gardener, and only discovers what a book is about when he has written a draft.
I’m a writer and a gardener, literally. I’ve been doing both for most of my life, and learning all the time. I tend to think of the imagination as a compost heap. Stuff goes into my brain – all kinds of experience, first-hand and second-hand – and sinks down slowly, mixing and mulching away, turning into something rich and strange. When it’s ready, I can use it. But what comes out will not be easily recognisable as what went in.
Now I have another horticultural metaphor to use, thanks to Ian Beck. As a writer, I am definitely a gardener. I wouldn’t want to read a book where I knew exactly what was going to happen, chapter by chapter, so I wouldn’t be keen to write one either. It would take out much of the fun and all the mystery.
Getting a story idea is like planting a seed. You have to nurture it, but also give it time. What grows may surprise you. You certainly can’t guarantee the outcome from the start, irrespective of the picture on the seed packet.