Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we looked at how sharing our writing is scarier than Halloween but totally worth it. This week I’d like to talk about something I know I fear as a writer: wasting time.
Whenever I start a new writing project, one fear above all hovers over me: the fear that I’m wasting my time. Not that I’m wasting my time because the book might not get published (see Finding “The One” for more on that fear), but that I’m wasting my time because halfway into the book – or maybe when I reach the end – I might discover that I don’t like where it’s going and will have to scratch it.
And if that were to happen, months – perhaps years – of my life would have been wasted on something that didn’t matter.
Ugh, I could’ve spent all that time
watching YouTube instead!
But one thing I’ve realized after years of producing things that I’ve scrapped partway through is this: the time spent working on those projects was not wasted. I know it may sound like a coping mechanism (“I’d better tell myself it wasn’t wasted time or else I’ll go crazy!”), but that’s not the truth. It really was worthwhile.
Here’s a recent example. My wife is currently working on a book that she’s been wanting to write for a while. It’s her first attempt at writing anything longer than a few pages, so it’s quite a challenge. But I advised her to just keep writing at a half-page pace per day (half the speed I aim for) and to just see what happens.
Four months into the project, she hit a roadblock. About halfway through writing the book, her mind’s fuel display crashed hard onto Empty. She didn’t know where the story was going, wasn’t happy with a lot she’d written, and just felt like she’d wasted a lot of her time accomplishing nothing.
So I took a look. The first chapter was basically what you’d expect from a budding writer (needed to slow down and crack open her scenes with more details), but there were two things that stuck out: dragons and pizza. It may sound silly but the story kept going back to those two things, mostly because she just felt obligated to fill up half a page and wrote about one of her two favorite things.
“And then the dragon ordered a pizza and he was like, ‘Yeah I need to finish my half-page for today, so I’m writing about pizza.’ And then the pizza came and it was good but a little too spicy for him.”
But where she saw failure in the dragons and pizza, I saw promise. What if instead of dragons being distant and mythical, they were up-close and common. And what if instead of pizza being delivered in cars they were delivered… on dragons? And what if the story was about one such dragon pizza delivery girl?
That immediately set her off on a flood of inspiration. Within an hour, she had a new book outlined and ready to go based on the new idea. After looking it over, it sounded much more compelling and exciting than the last one (even if it was about a dragon pizza-delivery girl!), and she was so into it she wrote the first few pages right then and there.
I’m not saying you have to write about pizza and dragons (although honestly why do we bother writing about anything else?), but I will say that if she hadn’t spent those months “wasting” her time with the previous project, the new better one would have never come about.
So if you’re hesitant to start a new writing project because you think it will just end up being a waste of time… then maybe you’re right! And maybe that “waste of time” might end up inspiring something even better in the future.
Or maybe the thing you create will just be awesome in and of itself. If so, let me just say, I’m jealous.