Between bouts of work, work, work and work, I've been straightening up both the house and the PC. Over the years, one's user documents directory becomes a stupefying toxic waste dump of digital effluvia. I've been unearthing half-started projects that I can't even remember writing, fragments of this and that, things which I imagined looked good in the ten seconds it took to scribble them down, and just a whole farrago of utter clabber that I deleted without looking back.
One thing I did find was a list of full-length projects which I actually completed, and it was humbling to see how many of them were in there. Humbling in the sense that most of them are not worth showing to other people. I've completed at least twice as much stuff as I've actually published or made available, although the ratio of unshown-to-shown stuff has gone up in the last several years. That's most likely due to me finishing stuff, learning from it, and then rolling what I learned into the next project.
A couple of these things are worth dusting off and republishing — like Another Worldly Device, one of my first really ambitious novels. Flawed as it is, it's worth saving. Many of them are things that were cannibalized for other works, like the two aborted attempts at a novel called The Young Gods, pieces of which were recycled into Summerworld. The two projects couldn't have been more dissimilar.
The one thing I've learned from all this is to not look back. Not in the sense of "don't learn from your mistakes" — who'd want to forego that opportunity? — but in the sense of, don't regret producing those hundreds of thousands of words that you simply can't show anyone because they aren't up to your current standard of quality, or don't represent you at your best. They are part of how you got here.
Whenever I was at a convention, I'd almost always end up at a table next to an artist and watch them at work. The one thing you almost never see when an artist works is the hundred other images they produced that led to them producing the one you do see. You never see the stuff they tore up or ditched halfway through; you never see the dead ends and the experiments that never should have been. But all that stuff leads them somewhere. It's only because we see the 1% at the tip of the 'berg, the finished product, that we never think about the 99% beneath it.
Every time I've made revisions of one of my books, I've made a discrete copy of the draft and set change-tracking to allow all the edits to be displayed. I don't do this under the delusion that it's going to be of historical importance to anyone else someday — yeah, like my papers are going to end up in some university library — but mostly out of a sense of completeness. I like to know how I got here, and what terrain I traversed on the way.