In order to address the folks who felt that way, I added the following to my post:
The fact is, no writing is wasted writing. If you have spent the last three years on a half-finished novel, you at least have spent a significant amount of time honing your writing skills. You may have learned some things about yourself, both as a person and as a writer. Finally, while the material you’ve produced never quite turned into what you hoped, it may someday provide a springboard for a newer, more exciting project.
But that paragraph felt a bit last minute (thank you, deadline) and when all was said and done, I didn’t feel I had done enough to answer the core concern.
Last weekend, my brother, husband, and I drove home from our family’s annual Easter gathering. My brother mentioned that some day, while still in his early twenties (before he has a family and mortgage to worry about) he might like to move to another state for a while. Of course, moving out of state would mean that he’d have to quit his current job–a job he likes, and one in which he has found some success.
My husband and I both encouraged him to take a chance and have an adventure while he’s still young enough. We used ourselves as an example: When my husband was 26 and I was 24, we left New Jersey together for the wide open spaces of Arizona.
In the end, the change of scenery just wasn’t for us, and we decided to settle down back in our home state of New Jersey–a fact my brother readily pointed out.
“I’d feel silly going away for a few years just to come back,” he said. “What would be the point, if I just end up back here again after all that work?”
For an instant, I thought back on all the unfinished projects that writers are sorry they started. Before a few weeks ago, it had never occurred to me that a person would consider an unfinished novel–or a three year Arizona detour–a waste. I never would have felt the need to tell anyone otherwise.
Now, I understood at last that certain things needed to be said.
“The point was that we grew up out there,” I told my brother. “We learned to depend on each other. We were strangers in a strange land, and we had to figure everything out for ourselves. In the end, we grew both individually and as a couple. We would not be the people we are today, had it not been for our time there.”
“And also,” I added, because this was important. “If we hadn’t gone, we might have spent the rest of our lives here, wishing that we had.”
My brother didn’t say much after that. I don’t yet how serious he is about moving away; only time will tell if he wants to go badly enough to make it happen. But I hope he understands now that if he goes away for a month, a year, or forever, it will not be wasted time. It will never be wasted time, as long as he learns a thing or two from the journey. As long the journey is a step on the roadmap of who he is, as a person.
Starting a new novel can be as scary as driving cross-country to live in a place you’ve never lived before. You may find wonderful adventure, or intense loneliness. In the end, you may go away just to come back again.
But no distance can separate you from the lessons learned along the way.
Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work.