In the May 2016 “The Writer” interview with Tea Obreht, Gabriel Packard asks the author how lessons she has learned about writing have helped her as a writer, and she responds as follows:
“ I really don’t believe in a wasted draft. And I tell students this: Even work you consider to be your worst is good for something. Every effort teaches you about your desires and tendencies, or guides you toward some new possibility, or shuts the door on an avenue you mistakenly thought was the right one. It’s a trial and error game, and every line you write-especially those that never make it to the printed page- has value”.
I have buckets of manuscript drafts tucked away- never again to see the light of day, yet I just can not get myself to destroy them. Not that I consider them to be of use for anything I will write in the future; it’s just that my heart and soul went into the selection of words ultimately stretched into sentences – stretched further into paragraphs, -then into pages, and then finally into chapters. To destroy those manuscript drafts felt almost like killing babies. I know that sounds harsh and its only meant as a metaphor (readers, please do not go “Donald Trumping on me now”), but its just that I could never get myself to destroy what I so carefully and passionately created. And yet, although I couldn’t destroy them, I felt frustrated that I spent so much time on projects that went nowhere, never to be published, when I could have spent that precious time exercising more, cleaning out closets, or rearranging my kitchen cabinets for the hundredth time.
But, this is where Obreht’s point comes in. Those manuscripts provided me with practice. They weren’t a waste of time. For each page that I tore out, for each sentence I crossed off, for each story I tucked away inside the oversized tupperware bins stacked beneath the desk in my office, I learned something. I learned what I should not do, or what direction I should not take, what words I should not choose, what ideas didn’t make sense. And learning what we do wrong teaches us what we should and need to do right.
People make mistakes. Everyone does. There is not one single human being on this earth who has not made a mistake he or she regrets. Its how we evolve, how we mature, how we grow. Those mistakes teach us more than the things that go right teach us. How much of what we do correctly do we remember;I mean REALLY remember in all the vivid, clear details- sharp enough to reach out and touch? And how many of our mistakes do we remember vividly, as if it was yesterday, as if the mistake was a live being following us around like a shadow in the mid-day sun. Mistakes are inevitable. Mistakes are valuable lessons from which we are able to improve ourselves and from which we can rise up like the phoenix.
The only time our work, our unused drafts, our mistakes are wasted, or the lines we write that never make it to the printed page do not bring value, is when we fail to recognize their value and reap from them the rewards they can bring us in our struggle to be human,or the best person we can be, -or in the case of writing-, to become the best author we can be.