In 2013, I participated in NaNoWriMo. I spent thirty days pounding out 50,222 words for the second novel in my story. I’ve put it away since I wrote it to focus on other projects. The other day, while having problems with the first novel, I pulled it out and looked it over.
It has several issues that make me hesitate to call it a first draft. It’s not long enough for a stand alone book. Instead of being book two in the series. It needs to be book three. Several concepts and plot points have flaws that make them unworkable. A lot of it is salvageable, but the underlying concept that would be used for the summary needs to be tweaked considerably. The story will have to be heavily edited if not rewritten outright. It will take time to smooth out the new set of bumps in the road I’ve created. My thought when I finished reading it was I poured a month’s worth of hard work into something I can’t use.
So why am I talking about this?
I’ve heard a few friends talk about “time wasted” when they need to cut conversations or scenes they spent hours crafting. All that effort put into something, and now it won’t be seen except for by myself and a handful of beta readers. I felt that way too before I started trying to write a novel. Now I’m looking at it differently. It’s practice of a craft, testing out if the words fit or not. I may end up writing ten pages before figuring out how to whittle it down to five that conveys the exact same scene. Sometimes you write an entire novel as practice of your craft that gets set to one side.
In terms of knitting or crocheting, it’s a gauge swatch. A gauge swatch is a small piece you make, usually four by four inches, before you start the actual project. It is a way to make sure you are creating the right number of stitches and rows per inch and a chance to practice any tricky lace patterns or cables required. If you are not hitting those marks, you can change your needles until you do meet the pattern’s specifications. Depending on what you are doing, the gauge swatch is either unraveled so the yarn is used in the project, held aside to be used in something else like a patchwork blanket, or discarded completely. Is a creating a gauge swatch time consuming? Yes, it can be, depending on how intricate the stitch-pattern is. Is creating a gauge swatch a complete waste of time? No, especially when you find out you knit too loosely compared to the instructions and your XL sweater is now a 3XL.
Now I look at that NaNoWriMo project like I would a gauge swatch. While the analogy isn’t perfect, writing them has shown me where I need to tighten up my ideas. Maybe I will cut a conversation and recycle it into a different scene or different novel entirely. Maybe it will show up as a “deleted scene” on my website. Maybe it will disappear never to be referenced again. But it will never be time wasted.