Dr. Crazy posted something interesting yesterday about writing, including this sentence:
[T]he kind of thinking that you can do in writing is far more substantial than the kind of thinking that you can do that is confined to your own brain.
This got me thinking about the following incident: One of my trainees and I discussed a manuscript he was writing and decided on a particular angle. He spent several days generating a complete draft coming at the topic from this angle.
After I read this draft, I realized that the angle wasn’t optimal, and indicated that we actually needed to come at it from a different angle, which would require substantial rewriting. The trainee got all huffy, angrily accusing me of “wasting his time” by not having pointed him at the correct angle in the first place.
The point is that writing is a path-dependent process, and sometimes you just can’t arrive at the optimal destination without meandering around and taking some detours along the way. Corollary is that you frequently learn some important shit while off on those detours. Consequently, it is fucking absurd to look back and in hindsight consider any non-linear path to the destination to have been a “waste of time”.
Of course, being a brilliant mentor, I persuasively explained all of this to my trainee who happily pranced off back into the lab to joyously revise the manuscript accordingly. (Well, actually, he stalked off in a major-league snit muttering under his breath about what a dickbag I am. If your trainees are never mad at you, you almost certainly aren’t mentoring them effectively.)