I used to get really bummed if I felt I had wasted writing. If I started something and then abandoned it, or couldn’t execute an idea quite right, or finished something and then discarded it after so many rejections. It felt like I had failed in some massive way, and I would completely overlook any improvement I made in the process.
I don’t like making broad statements about what makes a “good writer,” or whatever, but I think for me right now, learning to not think of writing that isn’t publishable as wasted is part of me growing into a “good writer.”
Right now I have two older pieces (about three years old at this point) that I had given up on, and banished to the depths of my hard drive, but that I’m revisiting. One I’m just taking the core concept from and jettisoning everything else, and the other I’m expanding into a longer and more fully developed piece. I’d totally given up on these pieces! I’d gotten them into what I at the time thought was their finished state, submitted them over and over, gotten a rejection on every single submission, and eventually retired the pieces. Wasted writing.
But now they’re seeing the light of day again, they’re becoming something better, just as my writing has become something better. I still go back through rough drafts, through discarded outlines, even through my old hand-written journals to pull out ideas and dialogue and character concepts. Writing that I’d abandoned, but after letting it sit for long enough, I am able to rework an old, unusable idea into something new and great.
And sometimes, the stories and work just don’t resurface. They stay on the hard drive, or get deleted from the recycle bin. But even if nothing is salvageable, even if there’s nothing there to cannibalize and subsume into something better later on, it was never wasted writing. Something improved, something was worked on. There was growth.
It’s practice. Everything is practice. The stuff that I’ve written and left on my hard drive for years before moving to the recycle bin is practice, just as the stuff that’s actually been published is practice, although I hope some people at least enjoyed the later bit of practice. It’s all working towards the next good thing, the next thing that I hope moves someone.
Again, writing advice is not my forte, but don’t get down on writing that doesn’t quite make the cut. Sometimes it’s enough to just write. Sometimes its hard to just write. As long as you do the writing, you’re giving yourself building blocks to eventually build up something solid and amazing.
I’ve been struggling with my mental health and poor work/life balance the past few years, and my creative output has suffered as a result. So any writing is good writing, even if its not Good Writing. If it winds up in the recycling bin, so be it, but it was writing that I did, and that’s a tremendous thing on its own.
It was good. Maybe not good enough to publish, but good enough in the moment.
I’m coming to terms with this.