First, a word about backing up so you can try to prevent this from happening next time. You NEED to back up. Your hard drive is going to fail at some point. It's not a "if" - it's a "when." Don't just back up to your hard drive. Back up off site. It can be as simple as mailing the DOC file to a friend so they have a copy on their system. Cut a CD or DVD and give it to a family member. That way if the house catches on fire or a flood comes or a burglar runs off with things you have a safety net. If you can imagine a disaster, it's happened to a writer out there. It takes 60 seconds to make a backup. Do it regularly.
On your hard drive, keep version numbers. I personally keep a folder for each project. So, for example, /tenminuteyoga/ is a folder. Within that I keep an /oldversions/ subdirectory where I put the older versions. The main directory only has the current working version so I never click on the wrong version by mistake. I name them tenminuteyoga-v1.docx, tenminuteyoga-v2.docx, and so on. That way it's always crystal clear which version is which.
Back up. It'll save you countless grief and time.
But let's say life did one of its normal corkscrews and you're now faced with having to start again either from scratch or from an old version. Take a deep breath and smile. You're in the company of many famous people - and this "rebirth" effort is often just what the storyline needed! You now know what the ending result was going to be - and you can write it fresh. You're not hampered by old word choices or phrases which had been brought along from a first draft. You can create the work with all the experience and knowledge you gained during the previous "first drafts" and do it even better this time.
Yes, that Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. Remember the old days of snail-mailing manuscripts to a publisher? Hand-written manuscripts? Now imagine the state of the post office in those days. Mary Shelley sent the original manuscript for her work Lodore off to her publisher for review. Somehow a big chunk of it got lost along the way. She had to rewrite it from scratch. It could absolutely be that her reworked version is far better than what she had originally begun with!
That's not to say it was easy - Mary writes, "You seem to think that you gave me an easy task in rewriting that unlucky MS - quite the contrary ... Give my compliments to Mr Bentl[e]y & tell him I am very sorry, that like Don Quixote, an Enchanter meddles with my affairs."
ROBERT LEWIS STEVENSON
The famous author of Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Seems like sure-fire classic, right? Quite the contrary. When Stevenson was done with his first draft he left it, as was his custom, for his wife to read and make comments on. She wrote her notes in the margin, that she felt it was more an allegory than a story. Stevenson read that, was disheartened, and promptly BURNED the entire thing. But then he was inspired to write it fresh as an allegory, began all over again, and the result is history.
Thomas Carlyle was a skilled historian who did an enormous amount of research on the French Revolution. He poured immense hours into the writing of The French Revolution: A History. When he finished the first volume of this work he sent it to a friend of his, John Stuart Mill. Mill's maid thought the work was a pile of paper trash and used it to start fires in the fireplaces. Poor Carlyle had to rewrite the entire thing. The final book was released in 1837 to great acclaim.
The number of famous works lost during World War II staggers the imagination as composers, novelists, writers, and artists had to flee the war, leaving behind precious material which was then destroyed. One in particular stands out - Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik fled the Germans, leaving behind a number of works. Miraculously his home was not destroyed - but unfortunately his landlady decided to burn the works in a bonfire as part of cleaning up. He had to rewrite his scores from memory.
These are but a few of the long list of works that were destroyed for various reasons and then had to be recreated. I remember reading about a famous composer - maybe Mozart? - who was finished with an important piece of work when a breeze through a window tossed all of his hand-written pages into a giant mess. Rather than try to figure out which order they all went in, he decided to simply start again from scratch. He felt that new version was far superior to what he had written before. If anybody knows which work this was, please let me know.
In any case, the lesson here is to take heart. Starting from scratch is often a GREAT thing. It means you have a lot of the details worked out and can now write them perfectly to fit together. You're not hindered by old language. What you create now can be the very best version possible!
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