07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Love's Labors Lost? Not to Worry...

Tragedy strikes every writer’s work-in-progress sooner or later. In spite of all your efforts to be careful and to back up your work daily, you will (take your pick):
  • hit the delete key by accident and the autosave function will save the accidental version before your fingers, paralyzed with shock and horror, can click undo.
  • somehow save your just-revised Act 2 as Act 1, leaving you with two copies of Act 2 (although one copy is named Act 1) and overwriting Act 1 (which you also revised today, or maybe last week and forgot to back it up.) Self-flagellation begins (“I wouldda, couldda, shouldda...”)
  • have no idea what you did, but the chapter you wrote yesterday has totally disappeared. Trying to suppress the panic swarming in your chest like a cloud of angry bees, you look in nearby folders and at the bottom of the document library list, but the whole chapter has gone into a black hole, apparently never to return. The Search function can’t even find it. Doom looms, as inevitable as winter.
  • have no idea why, but your computer tells you your short story file is corrupted and can’t be recovered. You run to the bathroom and throw up the leftover Chinese take-out you had for breakfast.
What’s a heartbroken writer to do? 
Write the paragraph/Act/chapter/story a second time.
I hear sobs in Alaska, wails in Australia, sniffles in Alabama—even moans coming from the fourth planet circling Aldereen in the Dragonfly Nebula. (Okay, I invented that last place to make my point.) This is not what a writer mourning her lost labor-of-love wants to be told. 

So go ahead and cry, scream into your pillow, whine to your writer friends, take a walk, dig out some chocolate, shake it off, suck it up. Then don your Super Writer panties and write the passage again

Believe it or not, you can do this. And the end result will be surprisingly similar, if not identical, to the original. I know this from personal experience.

When I lost an entire chapter right after I polished my work of art, I was devastated. I so did not want to write that chapter again! I’d labored over this part of my manuscript for eleven days to make it as close to perfect as I possibly could. How could I create anything that good again?

But what choice did I have? Trash the whole book? Unthinkable! So I wrote my lost chapter again. I was positive this new version was not as good as the one I had lost, but it would have to do.

Three months later, a miracle happened. I found the original chapter. I believe Computer Gremlins stole my chapter, then returned it for reasons unfathomable to mortal men. 

Imagine my shock when I compared the two versions of my chapter side-by-side and discovered they were nearly identical. Word-for-word identical. For most of twenty-three pages, identical.

This didn’t happen because I remembered what I’d written. I didn’t, except in a general, synopsis-like sense. I wrote the chapter the same way the second time because my creative cauldron, Girls in the Basement, Muse, subconscious, or whatever-you-want to call it is a creature of habit. There may be  many roads to Oz, but my mind likes the path of least resistance, be it yellow brick or black asphalt.

 So when something like this happens to you (and it will; it’s as inevitable as human fallibility and bad computer magic), take heart. Chances are, you’ll write your lost words a second time with only very minor changes. Heck, you may even improve on the original version.

Have you lost chunks of your writing? If so, what did you do?


Judith Ashley said...

Yes, I've lost chunks of my writing to the evil computer gremlins.

Many a night when the clock was chiming midnight and I'd just finished a report and clicked 'save' something happened and it was lost. Not only had I slaved for several hours on the report, there invariably was a deadline and it was due in the office by the time it opened at 8:30 a.m. My only option was to write it again - and usually it turned out better (or at least more concise).

So, when something similar happens with my current manuscript, I grab some chocolate, suck it up and write it again believing this latest version will be better.

Tam Linsey said...

Oh, Sarah, you had me rolling with laughter. Great voice in this post!
Losing work is part of being a writer. I don't know a single writer who hasn't. And your advice is spot on. All we can do is start again.
But it is nice to know we're not alone in our misery - I sometimes hear sobbing clear from Aldereen.

Diana Mcc. said...

Whew!!! Knock-on-wood, throw salt over my shoulder and cross my fingers, I haven't lost any of my writing thus far. However, I have lost and never found my index cards of each chapter, scene and character reference. That happened this summer and I still have not found them!

Great post!

Sarah Raplee said...

Judith, I learned this lesson years ago as a technical writer, so I can relate. Thanks for the compliment, Tam! And yes, Diana, losing your work in any form counts. :)

Paty Jager said...

That's interesting! I need to check out places I've lost material and see if they are similar to the rewrites. I've lost some scenes over the years or deleted a scene thinking it didn't do anything for the story on to see it did as I moved along in the plot. Then I had to rewrite the scene and I think the second time was better.

Good post!