The Tower: Sunk Cost Falacies and the Shit Thing About Growth

Back in 2009, I wrote my first real novel. Not the garbage word vomit creature I produced when I was 13, but an actual almost-good novel with a beginning, middle, and end. I was proud of it. I worked hard on it. I sent it out to agents and while I got largely positive feedback, no one picked it up.

Years later, I revisited the novel and identified some problems with it. It was a novel for adults, but a significant amount of time was dedicated to a child POV character. Not necessarily terrible, but a difficult sell. I also realized I included more fantasy elements and creatures than I was comfortable with. And although the plot was rather mundane (if you set aside the demons and magical pie), I didn’t do a great job of exploring that mundane world.

Looking at it with fresh eyes, I could still see the potential. But it needed work.

I started editing and revising. I tried to make the child POV character smaller. I tried to remove some of the magic. I tried removing first the demon, then the angels, then both. I struggled with revisions for years. Literally.

And then one day, I had a real come-to-Jesus moment. This voice in my head said, “You do realize this isn’t going to work, right? Revising this won’t get you there. You have to start all over.”

I was…not excited about that idea, to say the least. “But I’ve already spent so much time and energy on this,” I whined to myself. “If I start over now, all that work will go to waste.”

Other Me, smartass that she is, replied, “It’s going to go to waste no matter what, because it doesn’t work. So you can either suck it up and start over with the possibility of it one day being saleable, or you can keep futzing with it and never create anything publishable. Of course,” I said to myself with an impish little grin, “the choice is entirely yours.”

So I did the hard thing. I started over.

Four months later, freed from the shackles of a novel that wasn’t working, I produced a novel that did work. Within a year, I was picked up by my agent based on the new book.

The Tower is my least favorite card in the Tarot deck. Because although some folks say the Tower is all about big changes–which it is–it’s also about destruction. And in particular, it’s about destroying something that you’ve already put time, effort, sweat, and tears into. It’s about actively taking apart something that isn’t working or no longer serves.

And although that’s painful, the destruction is itself a path for growth. For the garden to flourish, the weeds must be pulled. For the statue to emerge, the excess marble must be cut away. Creation is not merely an additive process–it’s inherently destructive. Everything that does not serve–whether it’s a story, an artwork, a relationship, or a career–must be cut down to make room for what does work.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy is the belief that we’ve already invested resources into a thing, therefore we should stick with a thing. It’s the reason we stay in relationships long past their expiry date. It’s the reason we endlessly revise novels that don’t work. It’s the reason we keep working toward a degree when we lost interest in the subject matter ages ago.

But sometimes, revision simply isn’t enough. Sometimes, you and your partner have grown into incompatible people, and all the couple’s counseling in the world can’t fix that. Sometimes, your book took the wrong structure, the wrong theme, and the wrong characters from jump, and no amount of futzing with dialog is going to remedy that. The Tower challenges us with this harsh truth: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

It’s time to destroy.

Now, here’s the REAL shit part–the Tower is also letting you know that if you don’t take on this effort yourself, the universe is gonna do it for you. When something has to give, we can either take the reins ourselves and guide the process, or we can wait for life to do what life does best. And since life is chaos, man, is that ever not the path I recommend.

In the words of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from that timeless paragon of a movie Aliens, “Nuke the entire site from orbit–it’s the only way to be sure.”

Do not fear destruction. Embrace the necessary obliteration of that which no longer serves. Raze the Tower to its foundation. That is the way forward. Don’t look back. The load is off your shoulders, and it’s time to rebuild.