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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

I Can’t Believe I Lost My Writing!

You know the feeling – the adrenaline rush of fear that makes your stomach queasy and your mouth dry; the frenzy of desperately searching through papers, files, folders, books, clutter; the insistence that “It has to be here, I can’t have lost it.”

“It” is the draft that disappeared when your computer crashed, the mind map scribbled on a scrap of paper that has slipped into another dimension, the missing page of notes from a source you can’t easily access again or the idea that seemed so brilliant just yesterday but that you can’t recall now for the life of you.

After the frenzy, your shoulders droop and your lower back collapses. Only the fact that you’re sitting in a chair keeps you from falling into the fetal position. “I can’t believe I lost it! I can’t believe it’s really gone.”

You might alternate between desperate half-belief “It’s got to be here somewhere, maybe it’s …” and angry certainty “It’s gone. F*** it!”

You might try negotiating, “Maybe if I clear out my email folders or my desk drawers, I’ll find it.”

Finally you fall into despair and give up, not only on the draft, idea or pages you lost, but on writing about that topic or in that genre at all. At least for a while.

Stages of Grief and the Resistance that Comes with Them

I’ve seen students and clients move through the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and I’ve gone through those stages myself. Writers typically experience a variety of resistance in the first four stages:

  • paralysis (“My mind is a complete blank, I just can’t think”)
  • postponing (“I’ll write again just as soon as I find it”)
  • distractions (“Maybe if I reorganize the silverware drawer, I’ll find it”)
  • excessive criticism (“I can’t believe I/she/he/it was so stupid”)
  • sabotage (“If I can’t get it back, it’s not worth even trying to write today”)

Acceptance Solves Resistance

Loss is an inevitable part of life. We need to allow ourselves time to move through the stages of grief. But we can’t allow ourselves to get stuck or linger overlong in the stages that precede acceptance.

If we don’t move through all five stages, if we get stuck and allow ourselves to stay stuck, grief creates a sustained writer’s block.

Acceptance starts with “This really happened. It sucks, but it’s happened, so I need to write it again from scratch/recreate the mind map/research the notes again/find a new idea.”

Sometimes acceptance comes from talking about the experience with sympathetic witnesses who still believe in us as writers. Sometimes acceptance comes from sheer stubbornness “Yes, that happened, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let that stop me.”

We need to work to get to acceptance because that’s the only way we can reclaim our passion, energy and ability to write again.

Please share your story. Have you experienced grief-induced writer’s resistance? What did you lose and how did you move through the grief?


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9 Comments on “I Can’t Believe I Lost My Writing!”

  1. Erin September 27, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    Losing writing online – especially emails and blog comments – I find particularly frustrating. They’re not usually super long pieces of writing (except for my kilometric emails) but they tend to be special/unique/creative (and I get quite attached). But on a regular-enough-basis-as-to-make-it-not-uncommon, something unfortunate happens and before I press SEND, it disappears into the cyber universe. Small loss, small grief. But enough disappointment and couldnt-be-botheredness to rewrite it.

    Ok, presssing SEND now, without further ado …


  2. Michael October 1, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    Yes, Rosanne, it has indeed happened to me. Actually (no exaggeration here) the new scene I drafted right around the time you posted this on Friday has vanished (which I discovered earlier today at the start of Product Time — known as Five Stages Time for the time being) when I went to add to it with revisions.

    It was a good start on that scene, the first real production I’ve turned out in weeks, and it broke my heart, and I’m still stuck in the first four stages. I’ll try your advice and see…


    • rosannebane October 2, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

      Hi Michael,
      I’m so sorry this happened. This situation is heart-breaking and gut-wrenching. What a weird coincidence in timing.
      At some time in the future, it might help to know that the work that disappeared still IS a good start on the scene. You can’t reproduce the writing you did, but you can build on that now-invisible beginning. You know you’re capable of doing it. You could even write something better. I wish you a relatively quick trip through the first four stages of grief.


      • Michael October 3, 2012 at 10:25 am #

        Thanks, Rosanne. I did indeed push through it.

        I started by just journalling what I remembered about the order of events in the scene, things I really liked about it, and what I had wanted to add, remove, or change. I was surprised how much I remembered and, on a roll, I decided to put in my Fifteen Magic Minutes® and, lo, and behold, what I came up with is even better (in my own misguided (?) opinion) that what I’d lost. Silver linings and all that, I guess…

        Thanks again for this awesome site, btw.


        • rosannebane October 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

          Thanks Michael for sharing how you got through the grief and back into drafting! I have a feeling other writers will benefit from your willingness to share your experience.
          Thanks for putting the trademark symbol on Fifteen Magic Minutes! Maybe I should make that official…


  3. Books & Art - Spirit & Soul - Lesley Fletcher September 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    Exercise the part of the brain that produces writing but on a completely different playing field than normal.
    Works 🙂


    • rosannebane September 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

      Thanks for the suggestion Lesley! Did you exercise your brain doing writing or some other creative activity?


      • Books & Art - Spirit & Soul - Lesley Fletcher September 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

        When I get artist’s block, I write and vice-versa. I then lost my will to write or paint so signed up for a play writing course at McGill and found myself going back to my notes which sparked it all back.


        • rosannebane September 29, 2012 at 9:07 am #

          Thanks for sharing Lesley. There’s a lot to be said for creative cross-training. “Creative people” (contrasted not with “non creative people” but with people who have discovered yet how to access their creative potential) thrive on variety and it sounds like you keep finding ways to keep it fresh.


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