Burning the bad

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Sometimes you look back at what you wrote today and realize it wasn’t very good.

You know by now that you need to wait until tomorrow to have any shot of fairly assessing your work. But let’s say tomorrow comes and you find out you were right. What if you look at what you wrote the day before and realize it’s horrible?

Shrug it off. Throw it out. Write better tomorrow.

Wait. Back up. What was that sentence buried in the middle of the last paragraph? “Throw it out?” Really?

Sure. Mostly right now I want you to be adding to your pile of written pages but every now and then a day’s production needs to go. My friend Scott reminded me of that today at lunch. We were comparing experiences over the past couple of years. We’ve had good ones and not-so-good ones but we agreed that we didn’t regret the time spent on either.

Scott reminded me how important it is to know what you don’t like—what you don’t want to do.

So if you’re absolutely sure, then take what you wrote yesterday and put them in another file somewhere. You don’t like them. Write something else and keep moving.

Once, a long time ago, I taught high school math. I had one class that completely blew an exam. They uniformly did badly on the test. Of course, I, as their teacher, shared the responsibility. I pulled a stunt that helped them understand that I was on their side and that together we’d conquer the material and get them through it.

I told them to grab their coats and meet me outside. I then talked to them about the exam and how we were going to fix it. In the meantime, I said, we could just forget about this exam that they just had taken. And then I set the pile of exams on fire.

Sometimes if you get rid of the bad in a big way so that you can move on with complete freedom.