What Comes Next: #A-Z Challenge

“Nothing is wasted when you are a writer. The stuff that doesn’t work has to be written to make way for the stuff that might.”

What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas

The idea that nothing is wasted is a common one for writers. Every word is practice, every page of drivel a chance to find the phrase that will prove to be gold.

It struck me that this truth for writers is also a truth of life for all of us. 

5 Reasons to Believe that Nothing is Wasted

  1. When you’ve struggled, and ultimately triumphed (or not), your life serves as an authentic model for others (the generativity we were talking about in this post).
  2. The experiences you have had and choices you have made have resulted in the person you are today. Anything different and it would have been a different life, a different you. I’m not especially fatalistic, but I do appreciate the comfortable inevitability of this reason.
  3. Perhaps the challenging experiences in your life taught you something essential that you simply could not have learned any other way.
  4. We learn from our mistakes. As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  5. Sometimes, we come to realize that all of our experiences, even the awful ones, have prepared us for something wonderful in the  future that we could not possibly have imagined.

How to Live if You Believe Nothing is Wasted

In a word, easily. You can be open and curious when you know that nothing is wasted. You can make art for the love of it, lose yourself in experiences for hours at a time, and relax into knowing that you are on the profound journey that is right for you.

I came across this music video by artist, Jason Gray. It is based on the Bible, Romans 8:28. Enjoy the song, and the miniatures that were carefully chosen to be evocative for as many viewers as possible.

If you truly believed that nothing is wasted, how would your life be different?

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  1. This kind of mirrors my post on “When you Lose” – there’s always a lesson in what we do – win or lose, it’s what we take away from the experience that shapes the person we’re becoming. So, you’re right – nothing is wasted – it’s how we choose to use what we’re given.

    Leanne | http://www.crestingthehill.com.au
    W for When You Lose

  2. An important post, Karen. Thank you.
    I’ve certainly had many dark days in my past, without which I would not have an appreciation of, and the utmost gratitude for, the life I am living now.


  3. Hi Karen
    I agree that nothing is wasted. Every unfortunate or dark event can be a learning opportunity. Sometimes though you have to really look to see the upside of some things.

  4. This post brought tears to my eyes, Karen. So beautiful. Both the writing and the video/song. Truly nothing is wasted, though it is difficult to see when you are in the midst of it. I am going to miss your daily posts!

  5. At the risk of sounding glib, this topic always makes me think of the demotivational posters. “Mistakes” is one of my all-time favourites.

    There is definitely an element of truth in this poster and supports today’s topic. There is a learning in everything!

    I often catch myself reflecting on mistakes from the past and I usually feel deep shame from them, wishing I could have a do-over. Unfortunately, there are no do-overs in life, and all we can do is move forward with the learnings from that mistake. If we’re lucky, our mistakes don’t result death or permanent disability. Sadly, not all are so lucky.

    1. I hadn’t seen that poster, Joanne. I love it! It reminds me of something equally glib my dad used to say along the lines of “at the very least, anyone can serve as a horrible example.”
      I too wish do-overs for some of the things I’ve learned. I can’t even begin to imagine how someone who has caused death or disability is able to survive knowing that.

      1. hahaha! I love your dad’s expression 😆
        It is a bit tongue-in-cheek, and yet it holds a world of wisdom at the same time.

        I think the truly lucky ones in life are those who have made incredibly poor decisions but the results were not catastrophic. I grieve for those who made tiny mistakes that proved fatal.
        … and I hope that I never fall into that category.

  6. I’m a firm believer of your point #2. Every time I think back and wonder if I made a wrong decision, handled a situation badly, or wish for a re-do, I think of that. I like the phrase “nothing is wasted” and it is one I’ll remember.

    1. There’s such comfort in point #2 isn’t there, Pat. At least I use it to console myself some late nights when I’m regretting decisions I’ve made, paths taken or not taken.

  7. Hi, Karen – I wholeheartedly agree that nothing is wasted. Nothing at all. If we each lived our lives with that thought firmly in place, what differences would then take place around us?

    1. If I ever got into writing fiction, I think it would be really interesting to take that question and spin it out to see what the answers might be. Unfortunate that it would have to be fiction.

  8. Hi Karen! I completely believe this. And while it sometimes takes a while for the “lesson” or blessing to arrive, it always comes. We have a print in our livingroom entitled, “The Sun Always Comes.” I do my best to live it every single day. And yes, aren’t we extremely fortunate as writers to be able to “use everything”? Thanks for the reminder. ~Kathy

    1. I wonder what it must be like to live every day believing that “the sun always comes” or “nothing is wasted.” I would imagine it would be a very peaceful feeling, as if you are always in the right place doing what you are meant to be doing. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Kathy.

  9. I really believe this. When I cut something (or someone) from a manuscript, blog, or any other work I am doing, I pop it into a file of ideas to be used in the future. In life, I have learned to file aways painful experiences as learning opportunities, lessons learned for the benefit of my future, or the future of others. I have been the beneficiary of the lessons other people have had to learn the hard way. I hope that I am passing that on. What we are going through with my husband’s cancer is an example of that. I write about it because he is the rare person with stage IV lung cancer to survive as long as he has. Most people with this disease have lived with it for less than a year. We have some experience to share.
    Also, I love the Jason Gray song. He has a way of cutting to the heart of things in his music.
    Facing Cancer with Grace

    1. One of the things I admire about you, Heather, is your ability to take even very challenging and heartbreaking situations and render them in ways that are helpful not just to you but to so many people. You do truly exemplify the belief that nothing is ever wasted.

  10. Absolutely agree, Karen. I’ve noticed that every life experience seems to be a stepping stone for the next step and the next. A lesson, good or bad. We are all books being written or waiting to be written, similarly to the lives that came before us. Nothing is wasted — I like the phrase a lot. Give life meaning beyond the hum-drum of day-to-day routine, the wash, rinse, repeat. By the way, I just signed up for your tribe through the link above. Couldn’t figure out how else to follow your site. 🙂

    1. Welcome to the tribe, Silvia. I am so appreciative that you are joining us. I can’t remember if I’ve signed up for your site yet, but if I haven’t, I’ll be doing so very soon. I’m going to write to you privately to ask you some questions about sign-up if you don’t mind.
      I love the “wash, rinse, repeat” phrase; it so beautifully encapsulates the dailiness of life when we don’t see a larger meaning. Thanks.

  11. This brings to mind Robert Bruce and the spider “try, try and try again”. Or Beckett (I think) “If you fail try again. If you fail again, fail better this time” or something like that. Your message resonates with those – nothing is wasted, very true.

  12. I’ve learned to apply the idea that nothing is wasted to my writing. But I haven’t thought of it in relation to my life in general. I like having permission to think of it as a part of an authentic life. Thanks, Karen!

  13. Thanks for the great post. I’ve often said I live with ‘no regrets’ because I believe that nothing is wasted. When we are going through tough times, however, it is easy to forget.

    1. Hi Janet,
      I hadn’t thought about it but you’re right. If you truly believe that nothing is wasted, it would make sense that you’d feel free to live with no regrets. Thanks.

  14. Hi Karen, I really appreciate the reminder given with this post! I totally believe that nothing is wasted and think Thomas Edison had it right! It is not a mistake or a failure it is just one more way to cross off the list of things to try to make something work. Kind of a process of elimination as it were.
    I often think back over all these years and have realized that each choice, each experience have made me who I am today, I like who I am today so I would not trade one second that has gone by because as you mentioned change what happened and that ripples into the present to change everything that followed.
    Because of some of the hard, horrible years, I have endured I have learned compassion and empathy in so many situations for so many people. I also believe that those same experiences will one day allow me to help someone else going through the same kind of stuff through my memoir.
    That video and song by Jason Gray at the end of this post was phenomenal. I followed it to YouTube and subscribed to his channel and added that video to a private playlist I have created for songs and videos just like this, ones of motivation and hope. Thank you for sharing that with us.:)

    1. I’m glad you liked the Jason Gray video, Susan. Heather mentioned that he has “a way of cutting to the heart of things in his music” and I absolutely loved the incorporation of the miniatures. Wasn’t that movie projector image amazing?!
      I’m sure you are right that your memoir will be very helpful to other people. Now you just have to find time to write it 🙂

      1. That movie projector was amazing…I can tell you from editing videos that it would have taken him a long time to get things like that to sync up properly. I also enjoyed the miniatures and the little blossoms he placed on each one as the song was playing. I agree with Heather that he has a way of cutting to the heart of things in his music, I found myself mesmerized as I was listening and watching.

  15. I guess if people believed nothing is wasted, they would worry less. But, it might also have an opposite effect that people wouldn’t think before doing stuff anymore and that behavior might lead to harming others…

    I totally believe that the choices you made and how you lived your life led to how you are now. We are the sum of our actions. 🙂

    1. I understand your point, Liesbet. One can only hope that anyone thoughtful enough to have considered the philosophy that nothing is wasted would also be someone thoughtful enough to have a code of ethics, a set of values to live by. Here’s hoping anyway.

  16. This is a great concept to apply to daily life…a great way to move through the little annoyances, big grievances and even major heartbreaks and disasters that cross our paths in this life. Thanks, Karen!

    1. I agree, Cindy. If it were possible to live with this awareness on a daily basis, I think that the days and our lives would be so much easier and more peaceful. Now it’s just a matter of living that way each day – not easy.

  17. I really like that quote by Abigail Thomas. As a writer, I am long winded. I also write slowly. So when it comes time to revise and cut, I find it hard. All those precious words that I laboured over! As others have mentioned, I sometimes put the big chunks that I have cut into another file for “later.” But, in fact, it is rare that I go back and look at those words again. The words and the time spent writing them seems wasted. But Thomas’s point is that the process of writing those “wasted” words was a necessary part of getting to the text of the final draft, so the effort was not wasted at all. I like that.


    1. I love it when an author is able to say just the right words to offer us the reassurance or the inspiration that we need. My desire to share those words is a big part of what led me to participate in the A-Z challenge. Glad they meant something to you, Jude.

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