The computer freezes, the power goes out, a cup of coffee spills, the file is corrupted, the file didn’t save, a dog ran away with your notebook, or you can’t find it!
Losing work is a lot like a forgetting a dream when you wake up. It can incite fury, depression, resentment, bitterness, and the feeling that you’ll never get it back.
Thoughts that race upon losing work:
- Wait… where is it?
- Did I save it in the wrong spot?
- Did… did it overwrite the wrong file?
- Did it move?
- I swear to all that is Nameless, that I’m going to punch this spetting computer in the face if I can’t find it.
- WHERE IS IT?
- It’s gone.
- Curses upon all expletives ever employed to express anger!
- I can’t believe it’s gone! What do I do? Is it gone forever???
- I’m never going to get it back.
- I’ll never be able to reproduce all of that first-draft perfection.
People can have different reactions to losing a chunk of work. To date, I have never met someone who was able to shrug and move on. People generally have a pretty strong reaction to losing work.
From my experience, there are a few ways that people react:
- They stop writing. Just like you’ve been sucker-punched by a friend and give them the silent treatment, writers can have a strong, emotional reaction to losing work. Taking an indefinite vacation is a pretty strong reaction, and dropping the project entirely isn’t unheard of.
- They revenge write. If they lost something, they get angry. And then they get ravenous for revenge. Shouting at the computer: “You want to lose what I wrote? I’ll write something even better! Jut watch!”
- They need some time to recover. There’s no shame in needing a break, needing space from the device and/or project that wronged them. While your heart is on the mend, maybe start something new or explore a different program/device/project.
What you SHOULD do
1.Try to write it down again as soon as possible. Just like a fast-fading dream, what you’ve written can slip from your mind: water through a sieve. Whether it’s a recording or a text file, you should write down the high points of what you lost. Events, lines of dialogue, descriptions. Anything you can remember, write it down again. Even if you’re raging at the world, try to save what you can, and then come back to it later to try to recover more from your brain. You’ll be surprised at just how much you can remember.
2. Try to figure out what went wrong. Recording app crashed? Computer spazzed? Dog consumed a mass quantity of your journal? Everyone learns for their mistakes, so brush up on your Sherlockian deduction skills, and discover the source of the problem. Even if the answer is as simple as you forgot to save it, you should take every excuse to pretend you’re Sherlock.
3. Make sure it won’t happen again. While you can’t control the threads of fate intertwining and tangling, you can take every precaution to give yourself your best shot. Learn how to archive your work. Change your autosave settings to every few minutes. Double-record with a phone and iPod, or a recorder and computer. Type up handwritten material and have more than one copy (did we learn nothing from Misery?)
4. Keep writing. The eternal, ever-effervescent advice which guides all writers into a stupor of caffeine-dazed, furious typing: Keep. Writing. Getting burned when you lose work is a pretty damaging blow, but if you are committed to writing, to a passion, then you’ll recover from the gut-punching, hair-tearing, jaw-clenching, foot-stomping, expletive-shouting struggle of losing something you’ve written. And, if you’re a glutton for punishment, you’ll keep writing writing writing, and then—even if you lose something again—you’ll write some more.