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Architects, Gardeners, and Culture (It's about writing, promise.)

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I've been struggling with doing a scene-by-scene analysis for my manuscript over the last few weeks. I thought it would be a good idea, and I sat down and tried to do it, but it was prolonged and painful. I found myself trying to avoid it, negotiating with myself. I'll do it later; I need first to bake a bunch of pastries that take three days, that kind of thing.

Last night at my incredible Writers' Group, someone told me about the difference between Architects and Gardeners. That this lovely metaphor came from R. R. Martin doesn't surprise me. Neither does the fact that he's a gardener. My first reaction at the writers' group was that I'm more of a landscaper - I need to know where every seed is going, but I'm ok with letting them grow and doing the best I can for them.

What John at the writers' group also said was that the architecture of writing could be taught, whereas gardening couldn't. Not necessarily a "natural talent", but gardening is much more flexible, much more dependant on various factors that you can't control. Therefore, it's harder to teach and doesn't fit neatly into a textbook. Indeed, nearly all courses and books I have found, and definitely the popular ones, would tell you about a three-act structure or a five-point plot.

The good thing about it is that now I know what's wrong, why I seem to chafe against popular writing advice. The bad thing comes down to this: Who do I learn from? If it can't be taught, the only way to learn is by doing. And failing. I don't like failing.

Western culture—Capitalist culture—values architects more than gardeners. An architect's salary can be up to six times higher than a gardener's (I did some inflammatory stats there. Sorry.) Why? Because architects need a four-year degree, sure, and because if a gardener makes a mistake, no one's house falls on top of them. But I think it's also because you know what you get when you design and blueprint and build a house from scratch. There are no surprises if you've done your homework. It's predictable. Gardening depends on weather and all sorts of stuff that are outside of a human's control, and we don't like not being in control.

I've been working hard on accepting that I can't always control everything. I guess this is one more step in that direction.


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