Wasted writing

It happens to all of us. We write a few paragraphs, a few pages, a chapter and then say “Ah, this isn’t working at all.”

The whole purpose of planning is to avoid this wasted work. Planners waste less prose, while pantsers (seat-of-the-pants writers) waste lots of prose. But there’s always some waste.

Sure, the text you wrote won’t get in the final product. But smart writers never waste what they wrote. Here’s how to make wasted text productive.

Save it and use it later

Sometimes what you write doesn’t fit. It’s useful information, but turns out to be a distracting tangent to the throughline of the chapter.

Before you delete, clip it out and save it an a separate file. Then ask:

  • Would this be better in a different chapter?
  • Would this make a good sidebar?
  • Would this make a good blog post?
  • Can I use it in a speech, podcast, or video?

In extreme cases, I’ve seen digressions of this kind end up as the seed of another whole book. So they’re worth keeping around.

Blend it with existing text

Sometimes you write prose that duplicates ideas elsewhere. It’s natural to be frustrated when you realize you’ve just written something you already wrote.

Before you throw it away, take a look. Are there turns of phrase, examples, or subsidiary ideas worth saving?

Weave those into the existing text to make it better.

Turn it into a lesson

Even if your wasted text ends up useless, you can learn from it. Ask a few questions.

  • What was the flaw in my planning that had me writing text I couldn’t use? How would I fix that process in the future?
  • How did I end up digressing from the throughline of the chapter? Where exactly did I go wrong? How could I avoid doing that in the future?
  • What drove me to write this? Is there some hidden truth that my brain wants to reveal, even if it doesn’t belong at this point in the chapter?
  • What was my frame of mind when I wrote this? Was I distracted, angry, interrupted, sad, sleepy, or drunk? The next time I’m writing, how can I improve my state of mind during my writing time?

If wasted text makes you smarter, it’s not really wasted — but only if you figure out where you went wrong.

Writing is enjoyable because it requires application of effort — and because there is the risk of making a wasteful error. The more you do, the more you’ll learn, and the less you’ll waste.

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