Have you ever written pages’ worth of content you never ended up using? Plenty of writers have. We just don’t always talk about them. Have you ever been told that those unused pages are worthless? I hope not. That must have made you feel like you wasted countless hours writing something no one will ever see.
In truth – in my opinion, I suppose, which you are by all means welcome to disagree with in the comments – there is no amount of time spent writing that goes to waste. Here’s why.
You may end up deleting most of your original draft
Authors like John Green have spoken out about how much of their first drafts make it to the final published work – it’s not usually much. Your first draft is an extremely important part of the writing process, whether you’re writing fiction or a piece of journalism or a piece of online content of any kind. Part of the process, though, is understanding that you are going to revise and rewrite. Things are going to get cut. A lot is going to change. It’s naive to think a draft can easily transform into a finished product.
But just because you don’t end up using large portions of your first draft doesn’t mean all that writing you did was a waste of energy and time. How can you know if that’s how you want to tell your story if you never try writing anything down? Writing doesn’t happen in your head. Until it’s written down, it’s still just an idea. You can’t fully form an idea that way.
You must write – even if it isn’t “good”
True or false: you should only write when you’re “feeling inspired.” Regardless of your opinion – there’s no right or wrong with these things, since every writer is so drastically different – making excuses for writing isn’t much different than making excuses for not writing. You’re giving off the impression that you can only create something when you’re sure it’s going to be good. Doesn’t that sound illogical to you?
Some will argue that “bad” writing is a waste of time. If you don’t “feel” like writing or you aren’t “into” it, it’s not worth trying. I wholeheartedly disagree. As a writer, you have to write. It doesn’t matter if it’s any good. You need something to work with. Inspiration and motivation grow as you release your ideas onto paper. This idea that writing can only happen under certain conditions implies that “good” writers only write well – and that’s just not true. You have to write bad content. That may mean it never gets published, but not all writing is meant to be read. I don’t think that’s something that can easily be understood if you aren’t a writer – I wish it were easier to explain.
You must travel to a distant world, and stay awhile
Every writer constructs his or her work with a target audience in mind. They must then often imagine themselves as a member of their audience, taking into account their emotions, their needs and desires, and so on. That requires removing yourself from your present location. Right now, I am not sitting at my desk at 5am chugging coffee and writing this post. I am you – at least, how I picture you – sitting somewhere, reading this post, reacting to it. That is in its own way a different world. If I do not take the time to imagine myself there, the things I write to you will appear disconnected. Cold. Selfish, even.
Let’s say, for our purposes, you are writing a fantasy novel set in a world you have built completely from your imagination. In order for your story to be successful – conveying a believable setting, with characters who realistically interact with that setting, and so on – you must expect to spend as much time as possible in that setting. In your case, that means you must spend time in a world that does not exist. The only way to do that is to write about it – often the only way to transport yourself from reality to this place that currently exists only in your head. That takes time – a lot of it. The more time you spend in your world, the more your readers will be able to transport themselves to the same location.
As long as you are writing – as long as you are sitting there creating something, and not procrastinating in the various ways you often try to convince yourself don’t count as slacking off – you are making good use of your time. Very few words are ever truly wasted. Writing is writing. Who cares if it’s any good? Who cares if it survives the revision process? You created it. You’re learning from it. That matters. It always will.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.