Editing Principle 21: Waste Will Be Generated [UPDATED]

Many beginning writers think this: Start with the blank page. Fill it. Add more. Revise a little. Tighten your sentences. Done.

Many more experienced writers expect a creative process more like this: Start with a blank page. Fill it. Add more. Add stuff that you're unsure belongs. Add stuff that you initially think is brilliant but is actually putrid, though you will not realize this for four days. Revise but continue to miss your own main point. Re-revise. Realize that a thing you've explained over three long paragraphs can be crystallized in a sentence. Create an "outtakes" document in which you paste lines and paragraphs that don't survive your revision. Get upset over how large this document is getting. Tighten sentences. Wait a few days. Tighten more. Achieve some measure of self-satisfaction. Rest knowing that your outtakes file is about as long as the piece you'll publish, and that this is totally fine. This “waste” is part of the process, and thus not really wasted.

UPDATE: Somewhat related, here’s a quote from Ken Burns:

I'm credited with being a director, a producer, cinematographer, and co-writer, but I think the thing that I do is try to figure out what's in and what's out. There's a moment in the Milos Forman film Amadeus where the Emperor critiques Mozart by saying there are 'too many notes.' As you write whatever you're writing, you struggle with more raw material than you have space or time, or more importantly an audience has interest in. And so you will then do what I do every day of my life which is cut and edit and figure out how to have that complexity survive in the service of very challenging narratives, but not have too many notes.

It’s from this Fast Company interview: "How to Conquer Your Massive Creative Project the Ken Burns Way"

Megan Hustad