Years ago I read a story about a writer who’d printed out one copy of the final version of a manuscript he’d spent ages on. He left it sitting neatly on the desk in his writing studio (separate from his house) and went out for an evening. A few hours later, he returned to see that his writing studio was on fire.
He wrote about the wretched feeling that washed over him as he realized he was about to lose the very thing he’d spent hours creating. Then he wrote about how he ran to the studio and reached through fire to get the manuscript.
The hair on his arms was singed. He smelled like smoke. The fire department came and put out the fire. And he held on to that manuscript as if his life depended on it.
I remember reading it and thinking, why wouldn’t you have more than one copy? Would you really walk through fire to get a manuscript? What did that guy’s wife think when she saw him running toward the fire instead of away from it?
Today I sat down at my computer and pulled out my trusty flash drive where I’ve been daily saving all my words that I’ve been writing for my second novel. All 17,019 of them. Happily, stupidly, I went to my computer having trusted my flash drive to keep all my beautiful words safe and sound until I was ready to write more. And they weren’t there. It was gone. All gone.
All 17,019 words, the blog posts I wrote the day before, the personal essay I’d written and entered into Writer’s Digest contest, travel blogs I’ve written, the state contract screenplay I spent weeks writing. Other writing projects that I couldn’t remember the titles of. Everything. Gone.
I sobbed openly. If you know me, you know that’s not like me. I don’t cry. This was different. This was gut wrenching, hiccupping, snot running down my face, can’t catch my breath kind of crying. I’m pretty sure I scared the kids a little. My youngest, bless her heart, held me and whispered “It’ll be okay” over and over again while I cried on her shoulder.
As I texted my husband and then my brother-in-law to get technological assistance, all I could think about was the loss of these characters, these people that I had nothing left of. And the writer who’d walked through fire to get to his manuscript. Silently I prayed; begging God to please, please find a way to recover these files. To return to me the people weaved into the 17,019 words that I love so much.
I wanted all the files. Even the ones I couldn’t remember the names of, but I needed those 17,019 words back.
When my brother-in-law returned my text, I called him and we started talking computers. He gained remote access to my desktop and surveyed the damage. When nothing happened and I croaked out “is it all gone” covered in tears, I felt sorry for him. For what that must be like on his end of the phone to tell me they were gone.
It was horrible. I couldn’t remember the names of the characters. I had only flashes of scenes in my head; not nearly enough to recreate them. The raw emotion, the secondary characters, the language, all of it was like a mist that had evaporated in sunshine. I felt no joy. Only utter emptiness.
I watched as my brother-in-law worked his magic. Watched him click icons, type words and download programs while I sat in silence. Too afraid to ask if it was the end because I didn’t want to hear him tell me it was. Minutes passed with nothing said on the phone, my heart in my throat.
More than an hour later, I started seeing the screen scroll through files with the word “recovered” matched up beside it. I saw words that I’d written being pulled up on word documents. When the opening scene of the novel I’m working on came into view I sucked in my breath and asked him if I could see if it was there.
Three clicks later and it presented itself. The 17,019 words marched efficiently across the screen. I cried. It was like being reunited with family.
Hours later and I’m still shaken by how close I came to losing my words to a rookie mistake. I understand now why the writer from that story walked through fire to get his manuscript. I can imagine the joy he must have felt when he wrapped his arms around those precious pages and was reunited with the people from his mind.
If you’re not a writer or are unfamiliar with the artistic side of things, you may wonder why I cried over something like this. You may ask yourself why I would be so stupid as to only have one copy of my precious book. You may not understand at all. If you don’t, that’s okay. I wouldn’t wish this kind of situation on anyone else.
My rookie mistake almost cost me a novel I’ve been dreaming up for the last two months. It has also taught me a valuable lesson and helped me to see just how much my writing means to me. I will keep writing. I will continue to craft stories and while I hope the trauma of today fades a little, I don’t believe I’ll ever forget what happened today. I know I won’t forget to make backup files of my work.
To Travis: I love you! Thank you for spending your afternoon recovering my files today. When this one’s written & available to the world, there will be a mention of you in the pages for sure!
Have you ever experienced a rookie mistake like this? How did it turn out? What did you learn from it?