Discovery: There is More than One Way by Guest Muse Beth Hull

In the spirit of Columbus, who discovered an entire continent that was already here and already inhabited, I’ll talk about a discovery that is also quite large and obvious. Maybe as large and obvious as North America, maybe not. It depends on perspective, I suppose, like whether you’re a native American or a Spaniard in the fifteenth century.

What starts as only one bossy gopher...
So here’s the thing: I was one of those goody-goodies in school. I aced spelling tests—I aced the “pre-tests.” The other kids raced to see who could finish their math problems before I did. I wrote the longest, rambling-est stories in fourth grade writer’s workshop, believing page count to equal gold stars. I raised my hand to answer questions, I read every page of every book (except Moby Dick and then I very obviously voiced my refusal through creative quiz responses), I would never have considered not turning in a piece of homework. I obsessively followed directions. Did not deviate. Stayed on the path.

When I abandoned angsty teen poetry and turned to fiction, I operated in much the same way. I attacked books on craft and followed their directions. Plot your story. Don’t plot your story. Answer these ten questions about your character. No, pretend to be your character and ask her questions about the story. No, write the story from your character’s dad’s childhood pet’s point of view. Only work on one project at a time. Work on lots of projects at once. Write in third person. Write in first person. Write in the morning. At night. With music. Without. Past tense. Present tense. Experimental. Revise as you go. Revise only after the whole thing is done. Even the advice on what to do once I finished my book was contradictory. Start your query letter with the pitch. Start it with why you’re querying the agent. Query agents. No, publishers. No, publish the book yourself.

 ...soon turns into two bossy gophers...
It’s hard starting out on any new venture. Tennis, rock-climbing, parenting, writing. Everyone under the sun knows what worked for them, or they know what worked for their friend, or they know what worked for the character in that movie, or the Baby Whisperer, or E L James—and guess what? For the price of a book, or even free of charge, they will tell you what they think. And look out, because they will hound you, even if they are just voices in your head.

So no matter which way I wrote my stories, a small part of me was convinced I was wrong. Sure, Stephen King says this, but Anne Lamott says that. And heaven forbid I think of something on my own, because if nobody said to do it that way, it must be completely wrong.

...and before you know it, you have a whole infestation of bossy
gophers telling you what to do. Do you want to listen to gophers? I thought not.
It took a lot of time, and some definite growth in my self-confidence, to silence the voices enough to discover that there isn’t one way. There are many ways. Sometimes many ways for one person, with different ways that work for different books, different scenes, different pages. 




There is more than one way. That was my discovery, and one I believe everyone needs to figure out. Or, you know, not…whatever works.

6 comments

I commend you on your discovery and couldn't help giggling when you mentioned that people will hound you to tell you what works.

But you are right. Writing and publishing have paths before them that are as clear as mud. We've just got to hold tight to our boots and figure out our own way through the muck - erm - fun, glorious trail lol!!

Thanks for such a great post! This is awesome and so true. And, no, I don't want to listen to a bunch of gophers. Except the one about revising only during the waning moon. Got to try that one...

Thank you so much for joining us this week, Beth! And as a sister goody-goody, I know exactly what you mean. It is such a relief to learn - and relearn - that there is no one way. (though difficult when I think I know how the process works and it's suddenly completely different for the next book...)

Thanks for inviting me to be a Muse!

Angela, you are so right about holding tight to those boots!

And Bret, I haven't tried the waning moon thing yet, so let me know how it works out.

Love this, Beth, and so so true. If there was a "right" way, I definitely would have discovered it by now. Thank you for stopping by today.

I am fast becoming a fan of Beth. I came to writing from a math/science which means that "I had run to the store" was my training. Lots and lots and lots of things to overcome. But Beth's comments about sports is right. You have to get out and do it. Who knows if you have talent--wrong question to ask. Show up for practice (write, write, write), listen to your coaches (read, read, read), learn to fail (rejection, rejection, rejection) and then keep it up. Eventually you will be good--great maybe/maybe not. You will figure out which of all the words pouring in your ear works for you and, most importantly, keeps you writing, writing, writing. Jeri

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