I suspect it is a chronic habit amongst academics, and other people who write and create, to, in fits of pique and crushing self-doubt, erase their work and start again. I often wonder how regularly other people do it and what their feelings about it are.
I’m ambivalent. I hate giving up on anything, for various reasons: there might be a good idea in there, I’ll lose something important, I’m a failure because I can’t express this concept I have in the way I want to, I am a fool for imagining that this half-formed, crazed conceit was of any value in the first place.
Then again, I often reach a point in writing where I just know that something isn’t working. Often it is because I hadn’t really thought through the idea before committing ink to paper, and that I didn’t luck out on it being easy to write about. Sometimes these ideas are untenable, to be consigned to the X-Files of your mind. Sometimes, they just need to be kept in a cellar for a while whilst they mature. Sometimes, however, my failure to complete something is because I’ve written about it before and forgotten, and, in actuality, have nothing new to say. But sometimes, and this might be the most difficult admission to make, I just don’t want to. There are times when I have fallen out of love with what I am writing, and to continue feels cynical, mercenary, and dishonest. So I stop. Sometimes, there’s no reason at all.
I wonder if there is a function to these misadventures, and whether I should feel as guilty about them as I do. I suspect, in fact, that it’s healthier to think of them as experiments, or scraps of practice at writing, learning procedures rather than wastes of time. So whilst I hate having unfinished things littered around and behind me, I might have to accept them for what they are – things that, for a while, served a purpose, and are, therefore, in a sense, complete.
Yet when are things ever complete? Some people turn on their own work years after publication, destroying it or creating a repudiative response to it. Your work, the things you publish, these little scraps that never make the light of day are all open to flux and change. No idea, or at least no framing of an idea, is ever permanent – each is open always to reinterpretation, even by its original conceiver.
Perhaps then, those scraps aren’t lost ideas after all – instead, perhaps they’re the ghosts and shades of things that will one day be discovered. And maybe ‘giving up’ on them isn’t giving up, but learning to recognise mistakes and move on.
I wrote this post directly after playing Turnabout Intruder on the one I was originally writing. It wasn’t working, I discovered that I had written something similar before so, in the end, I just stopped. And you know, I don’t feel bad about that at all.