What I Learned From Deleting 200+ Drafts

Trimming is elementary to growth

When I tell someone I write, the conversation usually ends with the admission that what I’ve published so far collectively represents the tip of the iceberg.

It’s not a lie. But it’s a few yards off from the complete truth.

Until a few hours ago, I had 260 drafts saved here. Two hundred sixty. I’ll take a wild guess and say I have about 20 stories published. Meaning, that little green button at the top-right gets a click for less than 8% of what I write.

I joined this platform mid-2016 and became a frequent visitor mid-2018. The first article I published is no longer here, but I republished it three years later after a revision.

The point of being here was to bask in the beauty of a blinking cursor on a big white that takes up my entire screen, ready to listen to whatever my mind has to say.

That’s still true today.

Although I’ve had some clients to write for, thanks to this platform, I never really took a real shot at transforming words into wallet weight. Being a freelance photographer decently supported me during my attempt to build an economist out of myself.

I kept writing here with three ends in mind —

  1. To channel and organize thoughts and feelings in a suitable environment
  2. To produce content that can help others
  3. To water my writing plants to avoid losing the skill

Since publishing and growing an audience were secondary to the joy of the process itself, I accumulated more than 250 drafts over the last two years.

They ranged from a single paragraph to completely done stories (one proofread away from being publish-worthy), and I wrote on many topics including relationships, society, education, mental health, family and personal stories.

Following a trauma, when my life began to pick-up again, I found myself occupied by (thankfully) what I planned to do. But I no longer generated ideas the way I was used to doing it — in silence, during long walks, within whole afternoons of doing absolutely nothing except watching clouds float.

My collection of drafts increasingly started to seem like a rescue.

Except, they did more harm than good.

The last couple of years, I went through the collection of drafts countless times to find renewed inspiration, repeatedly realizing I no longer connect to what I wrote before.

Not surprising. I wrote what I wrote as a cure for the itch — because I just had to pour thoughts out right then and there.

Most encounters with those drafts would follow this sequence:

  1. I’d decide to write something fresh instead
  2. I’d stare at the screen, still overwhelmed by the extreme diversity of unfinished projects I just witnessed, trying to clear my head
  3. I’d somehow make it past the first few lines and give up

Although sometimes the itch to write was stronger than the need to have a clear topic, I could still write a lot better if I had never seen my drafts.

They needed to go.

Image for post
Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

I decided to begin a purge.

Set with the determination to cleanse the weed off the proverbial garden, I took a deep look at everything unpublished accumulated since 2018.

And to my pleasure, I met four unnoticed dimensions of growth in myself:

#1 — I grew as a writer

Half the titles were downright horrible. Scrolling down to the very bottom I repeatedly laughed at myself in my head. Lame titles aside, as I read through some of the nearly finished work, I failed to appreciate the overall tone of several stories.

I detected an abundance of long complicated sentences, use of words that exaggerate the point intended, and examples and analogies that did neither me nor the reader any favor.

#2— I grew as a creative

I knew from my experience as a photographer that a caveat to creative growth and producing better results is setting high standards for oneself and not holding on to mediocre work based merely on emotional attachment.

I deleted 235 drafts — and it felt great.

Everything I purged today collectively took days to write, but I also knew that their only remaining purpose is to show me how far I’ve come, and now that it’s done — they need to go.

#3— I grew as an organizer

Plot twist. I didn’t delete everything. I had two windows side-to-side, the drafts list open on one and iCloud Notes open on the other. I made a folder titled “Writing” and created notes under different genres (Self, Relationships, Society etc.) and stacked titles for topics that still matter a lot for me.

I changed most of the titles. For some, I changed the whole point of what I was going to write about.

So although traces of my past scribbles still exist, they are organized into categories and kept somewhere that I can only see through deliberate action. No further risk of accidental invasion of headspace.

#4 — I grew as a person

Plenty of things I wrote even up until a few months ago don’t ring right to me anymore. I either no longer appreciate the way I approached an issue or simply disagree with my own previous standpoint (truer for older drafts).

Many things that used to make me angry, don’t. I grew beyond those feelings. Things I couldn’t accept, now I can. I learned to acknowledge that some things are inevitably, and for the better, unpleasant.

I realized several of my arguments lack necessary reinforcement. My assessments were either too simplistic or suffered from too many of omitted variables. I couldn’t identify back then several dimensions of an issue that I clearly see now.

I realized, I moved further away from black and white over time, and familiarized with many new shades of grey.

The sum of it

We’re aware that efficiency requires organization, which in turn needs prioritization, downsizing and an anti-hoarding mentality. We’re also aware that good growth often requires trimming.

What we often forget is this needs to be applied to writing too, or any creative process for that matter.

We need to shed the redundant mass to fly better.

Right now, sitting in a café with soothing music, tender murmur of people, the rejuvenating smell of coffee and an indulgent dark chocolate cake staring at me with intense temptation, I can only feel happy that I have an unexpected milestone to celebrate.

I admit my bank didn’t gain a lot of weight writing here, which I acknowledge means a lot to many writers. But given that I never really made a decent stride towards that goal, I can look at the last couple of years of writing all happy.

After all, the process of being a better writer holds more value to me than the collective worth of everything I wrote so far.

So if you, dear fellow writer, are yearning to grow, let me ask you this.

Are you ready to trim?

Written by

“Sugarcoats are not in fashion” • Economist, teacher, photographer • Stockholm, Sweden • All posts: tiny.cc/22b5tz

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