How to Start Writing a Book With or Without a Plan

how to start writing a bookYou’ve had an idea in your head gnawing at you like an itch underneath your skin. You want to scratch it but there are so many mental blocks getting in your way.

Congratulations! You, like so many others before you, have been bitten by the writing bug. The only way to make this particular itch go away is by getting out your computer and typing away – one word at a time.

Unfortunately, that can often feel overwhelming and is quite literally, easier said than done.

Believe me – I’ve been there.

The day I sat down, opened up Microsoft Word, and typed the first few words of my story, Elementalists: The Fires of Canicus, (originally called Elementalists: Burning Desire, but that’s another story) was an exciting one. But it was also one that had been delayed for an excruciatingly long time.

I’m talking  years. Maybe you know what I mean because you’ve been there are are there currently.

I remember being at Ryerson University in Toronto and telling all of my friends about how I had this amazing idea for a book.

“That’s great!” they said. “So when are you going to start writing it?”

I didn’t really have an answer for that.

The Architect Writer

What I didn’t realize back then was that there are two types of writers and you can be either one of these. It’s perfectly okay to spend a long time outlining a plan of how to start writing a book and then go at it with full force. This is exactly what the architect writer does. They:

  • Think about it
  • Put together a plan
  • Make some drawings and outline
  • Revise their plan
  • Start writing character bios and backgrounds
  • Design a fictional world with locations, religions, etc.
  • Create a roadmap for their story
  • Doubt anything they’ve done is any good at all
  • Research things like the Snowflake method of planning
  • Get frustrated

And so on and so forth. You get the picture.

Just like a real architect who spends loads of time drafting a plan for their next massive undertaking, the architect writer spends countless hours making sure they know exactly how their story is play out well before it’s written.

And this is okay – this is great! A plan helps ensure that you are successful.

But it can also really bog you down and make you feel like your idea is never good enough. This is exactly what happened to me because I had let myself become a perfectionist architect writer whose story would never be good enough.

You see, the architect writer has an inherent flaw when thinking about how to start writing a book. They can become their own worst enemy, their own roadblock in the pathway to success.

The Gardener Writer

The gardener writer is the complete mirror opposite of the architect writer. Their approach to writing a book is to start writing with little to no idea of what is going to happen. They let their story take a life of its own, just like a gardener who plants seeds and lets his or her flowers bloom into something beautiful.

The beauty of being a gardener writer is that you can simply start to write without worrying about how to start writing a book. You can simply open up your preferred word processing software and get to work, letting the characters and world develop into ways you possibly never even imagined.

There is a state of mind every writer and artist finds themselves in – that beautiful productive period when you are ‘in the zone.’ Your fingers start typing and ideas come alive. This is where the gardener thrives – they let this mystical time design the story for them. Characters, dialogue, action – it all happens naturally.

Of course, this approach doesn’t arrive without its problems either. The amount of time the gardener writer saves in planning and writing their first draft can easily be made up for when it comes time for editing. Unlike the architect writer who deliberately designed their story to have a perfect succession of conflict and resolution, the gardener may find themselves with word vomit. This means spending a lot more time editing unnecessary scenes, reorganizing events, fixing missing dialogue and characters with questionable or even unbelievable motivations.

The gardener writer can ultimately nourish a beautiful garden, but if they aren’t careful, they might find themselves growing weeds instead.

When to Plant and When to Build

Ultimately – it’s up to you whether you feel more comfortable being an architect or a gardener. To summarize:

  1. The architect can have a more organized story but can become overwhelmed and delay their writing indefinitely.
  2. The gardener can write a story quicker but may have to spend far more time editing their manuscript.

When I started, I was most definitely an architect writer. I have multiple folders in my Dropbox account for Elementalists, detailing the characters, locations, abilities, and so on and so forth. The reason I held off writing for years was because there were certain aspects of the story I just couldn’t envision and get right, no matter how hard I tried.

One day, I simply had enough of the ongoing thinking. I remember thinking to myself, “That’s it! I can’t spend another day not writing. I need to get this thing out of my head!”

There might have been more yelling and kicking inanimate objects, it was probably mentally blocked out.

But I did it – I went in with something imperfect and started to write. At this point, the gardener took over and started fleshing out gaps and holes in the story. Suddenly, characters who I had only given a name as an architect were becoming integral parts of the book. A minor character who had no initial value other than some comic relief was now almost one of the front-runners.


I couldn’t have planned this if I had spent another year trying. The magic of simply sitting down and typing out words was giving my story life. No longer did I have to think about how to start writing a book, I was simply writing one.

Five or six months later, I had written one. The first Elementalists book was complete. I had written my first ever novel.

Although the choice of being an architect or a gardener is completely up to you, I would recommend being somewhat of a combination of the two. Think of it like a percentage, you can be 70% an architect and 30% a gardener, but if you’re 100% of one and 0% of the other things probably won’t go so well.

When to be more of an architect:

  1. When you know your story is going to have many characters and locations and you want to remember all of them.
  2. When your book has lots of factual information that requires research.
  3. When you are writing a non-fiction eBook that is meant to teach readers how to do something.

When to be more of a gardener:

  1. When you are writing a simple fantasy novel with a limited number of characters and you can make things up.
  2. When you are putting off writing your book because you are using insufficient plans as an ongoing excuse.
  3. When you simply really want to start writing and need to get the ideas in your head onto paper.

Of course, these are only suggestions. By this logic, George R.R. Martin with his A Song of Ice and Fire series would absolutely put Martin into the architect writer category. However, our beloved Game of Thrones author describes himself as a gardener. What I would recommend beyond all else is for you to do what feels right for YOU.

Because, my friends, writing is subjective.

By | 2017-05-18T18:30:25+00:00 July 10th, 2016|Planning|0 Comments

About the Author:

Author of ELEMENTALISTS: THE FIRES OF CANICUS. Owner of WritingABookCafe.com. Helping writers succeed from planning, to publishing and beyond.