On Losing Words

The first time I lost a story, it was a physical loss. I wrote out pages and pages longhand, and then, somehow or another, ever got around to typing out more than the first paragraph. Months or even years later I opened the file and found that it wasn’t there, had never been there. I hope the original’s still out there somewhere, buried in my parent’s house, but I doubt it. I was about thirteen.

Around the same time, I remember sitting down to write a story and trying several times to get the opening passage right. I’d ball up my failed attempts and toss them towards the bin, because that seemed like the writerly thing to do, but later I got them back and smoothed them out. They weren’t something I could bring myself to just throw away. They were important.

These days when I lose writing it’s usually lest tangible than that – computer crashes or the dreaded harddrive failure, or just plain forgetting to save. All of these instances remain burned into my memory. There’s a passage of my novel that, every time I get to it, even ten redrafts later, always makes me remember the lost version, eaten when Word crashed on an old, old laptop. Writing on a computer is a double-edged sword.

You go through stages of grief – searching through autosave (denial), desperately Googling recovery solutions (bargaining), tears, regret, finally acceptance. You re-write.

I despise re-writing lost words. Occasionally (as with the novel passage above) I comee away feeling like the new version is an improvement, but more often than not I’m certain I’ve forgotten something important. Something of the original is lost forever.

My harddrive failed four days ago and I’m stuck in limbo, waiting for a missive from the recovery specialists. I can’t move on and get stuck into re-writing till they get back to me. I’m preparing myself for the worst, but I can’t shake the feeling that of course it’ll work out and I’ll get those files back. If the worst happens, it’s going to be crushing.

To take stock of what I’ve lost: three short stories I wrote last summer, of which I now have only the opening passages. Two short stories I wrote last week. Two WIPs. The most recent round of edits on my novel.

I made detailed notes on the projects I started last week as soon as I could bring myself to, so re-writing those shouldn’t be too bad. The oldest stories I remember much less clearly, and in one instance, if I don’t get it back, I have a nasty feeling it’ll be gone forever.

I’m dreading doing those novel edits again the most. They were complicated edits, involving an unpleasant degree of arithmetic and fiddling with my time line. I’m reading it a chapter or so a day, noting down when I get to a passage I’ll need to re-restructure.

Whatever happens, I’m determined not to let my new projects die. Harddrive failure is an absurd way to lose an idea.


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