Wasted work

February 13, 2015

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).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

4 Comments

  1. Reply

    cshin9

    Have you read your novel in its entirety after you’ve published it? Is it different from reading another author’s novels, or does it now feel as if another person has written it?

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      I’ve never read it in its entirety, really. I probably ought to, but it’s still recent enough that I think I’d find myself getting stuck on things I’d like to fix. With more distance I hope I’ll be able to just accept that what’s done is done and enjoy it for what it is, lol

      I have read snatches of it though, as I referred to in another recent post, and it still feels like my writing. It’s not as familiar as it used to be, I can still be surprised about it, but I’m not yet divorced enough from my recent effort for it to feel alien. That’ll take more time, I expect.

      I look forward to it, though. It’s best to write the things you want to read, so it’s kind of twisted that I can’t sit down and really read it quite yet.

  2. Reply

    Tom Mason

    Hi Stephen, this message came at a very good time for me. I have been working as an artist/designer for over 58 years. I would say that I have created a lot of designs that may or may not have become product. The most important thing, I am realizing, is that it is the work, that is important, not the end result.

    It is not an easy task to work hard all day on product designs that will probably fall by the way, but I must focus of the use of my talents and the use of my time. Thanks, Tom Mason

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      I’m glad I was of some help : )

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