This is why your unused writing isn't wasted


Last week I wrote about how to cut your word count. What I didn't talk about was the gut-wrenching feeling of cutting all of that extra work. In fact, I blithely told you to save the extra in a separate document if you didn't feel comfortable just deleting it. No big deal, right?

Nope. It is a big deal. And that was insensitive of me. (Sorry! Still friends, right?)

It can be painful to discard hours, days, weeks of work. It can be excruciating. And the reason it feels so terrible is because it feels like wasted time and effort.

But what if it isn't?

What if you thought about your writing as process rather than outcome? What if all of the drafts, revisions, and cuts were just part of the process? What if all that time you put in was necessary to get you to the final draft?

Writing and editing are separate phases of an iterative process. Trimming your work into its final form is just the endpoint of all of those iterations. Those hours spent writing, revising, and thinking weren't wasted. They were necessary.

Here are three reasons why you should reconsider how you think about your unused work:


1. You're thinking on the page

Sometimes you need to write your way through an idea. Sometimes the way it sounds in your head isn't at all what ends up on the page. Sometimes the outline you made doesn't really work when you start filling it in.

These are problems to solve by writing. You may need to follow a thread for a while until something makes sense to you. That thread might be three or four paragraphs (or three or four pages) and a month's worth of research. But then all you end up using is a single sentence to sum it all up.

It's not wasted time. You're thinking on the page.


2. Everybody writes a sh*tty first draft

Listen. There's a reason I call the first stage Taking a Dump.

The first draft is ugly and messy. It's where all of your half-baked thoughts go to hang out for a while. But they don't hang out at a fancy dinner party. They hang out in the back of a van with a wet dog who has rolled in something dead.

Just give yourself permission to let your first draft be the stankiest, mangiest, grossest piece of crap that has ever seen the light of day. It's not going to be perfect. It's going to be terrible. Just let it.

That sh*tty first draft is the foundation for what's to come. Those half-formed thoughts are going to expand in your next draft as you think your way through an idea. You're going to lose a lot of what you wrote in your sh*tty first draft because it no longer fits.

And keep in mind that everyone writes sh*tty first drafts. EVERYONE. People who write for a living still write sh*tty first drafts. So go easy on yourself. You're not going to knock it out of the park on the first swing.

It's not wasted time. It's your foundation.

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3. The more you write, the easier it gets

Writing can be excruciating for people who do it infrequently. Just getting words down on paper can feel like moving through quicksand. To then cut and re-work and refine can feel like all of that effort was wasted.

But it does get easier.

Like most skills, writing is one part talent and nine parts consistent effort.

So at worst, the time you invested in your sh*tty first draft, your subsequent drafts, and your thinking on the page is good practice. It means it'll be easier next time. Maybe only incrementally, but it'll be easier.

The more you write, the more confident you'll be to say "there's more where that came from." It'll be easier to cut and revise because those words you struggled to write won't seem so precious. You'll start to trust that when you sit down to write, the words will be there.

It's not wasted time. It's practice.

And above all, remember this:

It's not wasted time. It's part of the process.


Do you believe that cutting sections or paragraphs means you've wasted your time? Which of these ways of thinking helps you change your mindset? Tell me in the comments!