Earlier today, I wrote another post. I started off with an idea, lost it part way through, and rambled to an incoherent conclusion. That’s why you’re reading this post instead of the other one—it will never see the light of day. Not unless I remember what I was trying to say and rewrite the whole thing.
A younger me would have been annoyed at this. “What a waste of effort!”, I would say. “I could have been writing something good!”, I would complain. To do work and throw it away feels like a waste.
It’s not, and I don’t feel like that anymore. Sometime around the point I threw away a third of a major draft of Wage Slave Rebellion—after having thrown away multiple initial drafts that never got off the ground—I grew comfortable with throwing away work. There would be wasted effort, I realized. I needed to write the wrong words in order to find the right ones.
You’ve probably already guessed my final point—that no effort is wasted. And that’s true. It’s a fallacy to say “This was a waste, I could have been working on something good,” because that’s not always our choice. We choose to do the work or to not do the work; whether it will be any good is a function of skill, experience, luck, and time. It’s not a choice between doing good work and bad work, but between doing the work or doing nothing at all. That’s where the effort proves its worth.
But there’s also value in something I glossed over. “I needed to write the wrong words in order to find the right ones.” There’s serious power in figuring out what won’t work through personal trial and error. It will often lead you to the right answer, narrowing down your options until the right one becomes clear, and even if it doesn’t, it’ll teach you something to not do next time.
Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling have two rules that speak to this:
#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
So no, no work is ever wasted. As long as you’re doing the work, it will help you get there eventually. And yes, this is relevant outside of writing. It’s relevant damn near everywhere.
Try new things. Give them a shot. Do the work. Try. Even if it’s a dead end, it’s not a waste. It’s only when you do nothing that you’ve truly wasted your time.As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).