Thursday, March 24, 2011

Different Paths to the Same Goal

A Peasant Woman and a Child on a Path Among Birch Trees--Arnold Marc Gorter--1866-1933My daughter missed a week of school last week because she had a mysterious fever virus that wouldn’t go away.

Most unfortunately, her 4th grade class learned how to simplify, compare, and order fractions during that time. Sans her.

Even more unfortunately, there is a new way to do this math.

Not that I was even great at doing it the old way.

On Monday, when she came home with her fractions homework, I attempted to show her how to simplify fractions…the only way I knew how.

It wasn’t the way the teacher wanted the class to simplify fractions. She was supposed to do something to do with fact families maybe? And finding multipliers? Something like that? Or factors? Something?

At any rate, it boiled down to the fact that I was approaching the task in a completely different way from her teacher. This made her feel both frustrated (with the assignment, her teacher, and me) and worried about solving the problems.

I could get the right answer (amazingly) when I simplified 24/108. But she needed to arrive at the answer differently.

When writing a book, you can choose to outline…or not. You can edit as you go…or not. You can research at the beginning of your project, at the end, or not at all. You can favor writing plot-focused books or character-focused ones.

The different approaches don’t stop there. Let’s say that you finally chose the methods that worked for you and now you’ve got a finished manuscript. Do you query it? Do you consider self-publishing it? Do you put it out as an e-book?

It’s enough to make your head spin.

I read an article a couple of days ago on Jane Friedman’s Writer’s Digest blog , There Are No Rules, about NYT Bestselling author Barry Eisler’s decision to turn down a $500k deal from St. Martin’s to self-publish his book.

Now that’s a different approach. But it’s the kind of thing I’m hearing more and more about.

Sometimes I’m tempted to feel like my daughter with the different approaches for simplifying fractions—bewildered and frustrated and uncertain of the right way to continue.

But then I remind myself that our books all end up at the same place—in the hands of our readers. What’s important, ultimately, isn’t how we got there but the quality of the books that we’re giving them.

What matters is the end-product: whether it’s a correct math problem or a page-turning novel.

Do you find the different choices and approaches in writing and publishing confusing? How do you find the right path?