There have been countless times in my career when I spent hours painstakingly writing something, choosing just the right words, smoothing out the segues, listening to the rhythm of the sentences
– and then hitting the wrong key and losing it all. Panic sets in. I search through a mountain of files, opening and closing them endlessly. Surely I misplaced it when I saved it. Or did I save it at all?

Sometimes I find what I lost and I exhale. But sometimes, I don’t. Years ago, I suffered terrible anxiety whenever my hard earned writing disappeared, but these days, I just accept the loss. What
I wrote is gone. It’s spinning out somewhere in cyberspace and I have to go back to square one, start all over again and try to remember as much as I can. I’ve heard it said that everything is in “the cloud,” but I haven’t figured out how to retrieve it and I make excuses for not understanding the tech stuff. “I wasn’t born with an iPhone in my hand.”

Of course I feel frustrated when I had a great piece going, I toiled and edited and got it to where I thought it wasn’t bad – and now I have to face the blank page again. At first, I feel like a victim. How could it happen? It isn’t fair. I spent so much time and now, I have to start from scratch. But when I search my memory and start rewriting, inevitably, something surprising happens: I discover new ideas and better ways to express myself.

It’s easy to get attached to what you wrote, but no matter how good you thought it was, you have to move on. Grieving the loss is normal and healthy, but hanging on to it and allowing it to take you down, is not. The sooner I stop thinking that a terrible injustice has been done to me, the more I get into the groove of looking at my writing from a new point of view. And I can say with assurance (because it’s happened to me so many times), the second version is always better. It still has to be edited and smoothed out, but I end up knowing that although I lost something, I also gained something.

When we go back to Square One, we call upon the qualities that all writers need to develop: the ability to let go, determination, organization, stamina, more stamina and a mighty desire to express yourself and your ideas without filters. Nothing we do is perfect and it never will be. Surrealist master painter, Salvador Dali, said, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

We human beings abhor being out of control. We are deeply impatient and the very idea of starting over brings up anxiety. But a writer’s life is fueled by unfinished ideas, dangling participles, and flashes of memory that seem unreachable, all powered by a yearning to tell a story or share a teaching. Sometimes we have to go back to the beginning and take that first step again. Whether
we’re writing or rewriting, we have to keep moving forward, blindfolded and trusting, loose ends hanging everywhere, hoping that we end up with something heartfelt and authentic. We are challenged to be creative in the midst of chaos, not knowing where we’re headed or what might show up.

Having to begin again, however, isn’t always determined by what we lost. Sometimes we start over because we don’t like what we just wrote. That happens to me pretty often, particularly when I work
on my weekly writings and prompts for my classes. I write about an idea, I read back what I wrote and at times, I see that I missed the point. Or maybe I went off on a tangent with no connective tissue, and no matter how much time I just spent, I have to start all over again.

When I have to trash something, I wait a moment before I hit the delete key. I read and reread it and sometimes I find one salvageable sentence. That’s enough. Then I get rid of the rest and I remind myself not to focus on what I lost or how much time I wasted. That’s a waste of time. Instead I focus on what I saved and the possibility of what’s coming next.

During his 100th birthday celebration, when someone asked producer, Norman Lear, the secret to his longevity and his good life, he said, “My doctrine is: Over. Next.”

We have to be willing to let go. To acknowledge that it’s over and it isn’t coming back. We have to believe in ourselves
and trust in what’s coming next. We can find joy in going back to the beginning with a clean slate and moving forward from there. All we need to do is remind ourselves that we have endless creativity, there is no limit to what we can create and there is always more water in the fountain. 

Celebrated writer Charles Bukowski said, “Drink from the well of yourself and begin again.”