As someone who talks about writing efficiency, I also talk a lot about wasting time. Namely how I use planning to prevent losing time to stupid stuff. Time is limited enough as it is, especially for people who write on the margins of their lives, stealing an hour here or an afternoon there. I always try to emphasize that time is our most precious commodity, the one thing we can never get back, and we should treat it with respect by using it wisely. That said, I got an email tonight that made me realize I should perhaps add a caveat to my general hatred of waste.
When I'm writing, even when I have my plot all planned out, I sometimes I go off course. Something that looked go on paper might not work once I get it into the novel, and as a result I can end up scrapping a paragraph, or a scene, or a whole chapter as I go back and start over on the right track. From an efficiency point of view, this can seem like a horrible waste. That scene is never going to be in the book. The time spent writing it will only bloat my spread sheet, dragging down my words per hour. But even so, I never count backtracking as waste, because every word I write makes me a better writer.
I read once that an author has to write a million words before they know what they're doing. I fully agree, but what that saying leaves out is that no small percentage of those million words will be ones that never make it into the final draft. I have whole or nearly completed books that I spent months of my life working on that will never see the light of day, but even those I refuse to count as wastes or failures, because the stories I tell now are built on a foundation of the words I threw away.
The hardest lesson I've learned so far as a writer is that failure teaches more than success, but only when you stop being scared of failing long enough to start learning from it. After all, the novel that never gets published teaches you to write the one that does. The wrong word makes you find the right one. Cutting, rewriting, doubling back, these are not waste. This is writing, and sometimes it's only by falling on our faces that we find the way forward.