Architect or a Gardener? What’s Your Writing Style?

Game of Thrones creator, George R. R. Martin shared this analogy in an interview. He’s quoted as saying:

“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 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. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”  

Writers in chat rooms, on LinkedIn, and on Facebook groups began to share their thoughts and weigh in on the topic. But is it either-or, or is there a spectrum?

The analogy has spread to other fields where people are asking this question as well. In business, innovation, design, technology, teaching … How do you operate? What kind of creative are you?

When you start a new project, do you plan it out in advance, or jump right in and start, then see what emerges? Are you a planner or a planter? A plotter or discoverer?

Libby Hikind, CEO and founder of, and retired grant writer says that the budget is to the grant, as blueprints are to a building. Libby’s way of starting a grant was a clear read and highlight of the application identifying all budgetary directions and merging them with the needs of the applicant.  The budget was her blueprint. After that, she would plant seeds programmatically.

Libby invites all grant writers to join the GrantWriterTeam.

Architects Writing Style

Grant writing architects can’t even think about starting to write unless they have the whole project planned out. They’re actually at an advantage. Grants are generally laid out with steps to follow. The architect grant writer will find it easy to work from a detailed outline, or based on the answers to the questions asked that need to be enumerated. Architects often devise timelines.

If you’ve ever covered your wall in sticky notes, you’re probably an architect (or maybe a detective?). Some will literally map everything out.

When in school, we’re often taught and obligated to follow this style. We’re told to make an outline first and to follow prescribed steps. We’re often even graded on the said outline. And then we write – the opening paragraph (thesis or hypothesis), body, conclusion.

hall architectureAdvantages of Being an Architect

  • Prevents or diminishes the frequency and severity of writer’s block (you’ve already worked everything out, so you know the next step).
  • Tends to feel more focused, especially on first drafts.
  • More efficient. You’ve got the plan, all that’s left is to flesh it out.
  • Minimal structural editing
  • Higher level of productivity and faster word count rate
  • Minimizes anxiety.


  • Can be creatively boring or less exciting, at the very least
  • Writing may feel lifeless or stale
  • You may dump the whole project because you don’t think you can succeed in getting the grant.
  • Outlining becomes a new form of procrastination—you spend weeks or months on researching, feel like you’re not done yet, so you keep outlining and then have no time to do the actual writing, or have to rush to get the grant written and meet your deadline in the end.
  • Writing can feel stiff when making decisions for the sake of an outline.

Gardeners Writing Style 

Gardeners plant the seed of an idea and watch it blossom. They often begin with a particular thought or topic, then work from there. Where it goes is anyone’s guess. While being a gardener is liberating, it also requires a lot of trial and error. Gardeners might start on a promising idea and spend weeks nurturing it. But what if it doesn’t grow? It’s discouraging to spend time on a particular piece or project only to realize you have no idea how it should develop.

Grant writing can be difficult for gardener-types unless they use the structure inherent in the genre to assist them in being organized and detailed. The guidelines can help them stay focused and on task.

Gardeners tend to write by the seat of their pants, like, “Late night drivers who can only see as far down the road as their headlights will allow, trusting that they will arrive at their destination,” writes Tara East in a blog on the topic. But grant writing gardeners at least know their destination.  They can use the guidelines to form a general plan if not a step-by-step outline to follow.

Garden, which way to go?Advantages of Being a Gardener

  • The writing is exciting and full of surprises.
  • It feels more spontaneous and natural.
  • Less rigid
  • Feels more creative
  • More original and organic ideas are likely to occur.
  • Allows the writer flexibility in the storytelling.
  • You can start writing right now.


  • Increased risk of writer’s block
  • Often lack focus or need to learn to stay focused and on task.
  • Potential to go off on a huge tangent that takes you in a completely different direction.
  • Additional time spent getting back on the right track
  • Difficulty reaching your destination or being sure when you’ve gotten there.
  • Massive rewriting and editing to fix the holes
  • Potential for a weak ending.

Can You Become a Master Gardener or Landscape Architect?

No one is completely one or the other. People tend to lean more to one side of the spectrum than the other. Most writers are hybrids, finding their own blend of these two styles. It’s important to find the blend that’s right for you, but how do you know if it’s working?

1. Take an honest look at yourself and your work.
Know your basic style and what you need to work on. Have you met your writing goals for the day, week, month? If not, re-examine your approach. Yes, it might be tough for gardeners to even set those…

2. Avoid either-or thinking.  It isn’t a matter of one style being better, or right vs. wrong. Learn to be comfortable with both sides of a spectrum. Explore new ideas while at the same time taking advantage of your strengths. These require different skills, and it’s easiest in the short run to choose one or the other. But to succeed over the long run, we need to do both, shoot for “both-and” outcomes.

3. Both skills are needed. So, do what you can to figure out which approach you’re more comfortable with, and then develop a strategy for getting both skills into your process.

4. Collaborate to address your weaknesses. If you don’t have both skills yourself and don’t have the time to work on your weaknesses enough to find or write the grant – it might be best to find a partner, create or join a team. Remember, the key to success when collaborating is to have cognitive diversity. Work with someone who has the skills you lack and learn as much as you can from them. Model their style, or parts of it, to the extent that you can without losing the beautiful qualities you already possess.

Find ways to use your strengths and strengthen your weak areas or find collaborators to help you complete your projects for the most success. Whichever you are, keep building and keep planting. Keep writing!

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About the Author: The author is a staff writer for Grant Writer Team.