Today is a nothing-but-work day, so instead of writing something here I’m going to point you to our post at Sterling Editing [link fixed] and the links for writers there. Perhaps the most interesting piece is the interview with Ed Viesturs, the mountaineer, who talks about making mistakes. Here he talks about his thinking regarding one mistake he make climbing K2:
What kept you from acting on your knowledge that it was a mistake?
You know, I was so torn. Part of me was thinking, “Is this really as bad as I think it is?” Here you’ve spent two and a half months of your life trying to achieve a goal, and you’re within 1,000 feet of getting to the top, and it’s one of the worst times to have to make these choices. You think, “Arrrrghhhhh, you know, if I turn around right now, we’ll have to go home, we’ve spent all this time and energy, and we won’t have made it to the summit.” So that’s pulling me in one way, and then the other way is going, “Jeez, Ed, it’s going to be terrible, just turn around, just go down.”
But you didn’t.
No. I kept saying, “Well, let me go on for another 15 minutes and then I’ll decide.” And then after 15 minutes I’d say, “Let me go on another 15 minutes and then I’ll decide.” And I just couldn’t make a decision, and I put it off so long that I got to the top.
Economists call that sunk costs—when you’ve poured so much money or effort into something that it’s hard to extricate yourself, even when you should.
Right! I can see that. In fact, I’ve seen it many times. And I’d always thought, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been there, how much money you’ve spent, how much energy you’ve expended. If the situation isn’t good, go down. The mountain’s always going to be there. You can always go back.
This notion of sunk costs is a vital one when it comes to writing. So many beginning writers plough on even when they know they shouldn’t, when they know they’ve taken a wrong turning. We’ve all done it. But as we get more experienced we learn to trust ourselves more We learn to cut our losses earlier. I literally can’t remember the last thing I finished that I didn’t sell. I don’t waste that kind of effort anymore. There again, what is a waste for a professional is learning for a beginner.
Go take a look. See what you think.