Monday, October 06, 2008

Losing It All

Many writers have long professed a love of writing in the morning. Sitting down in the wee hours of the dawn with nothing but a coffee and some thoughts. Oh, and a computer. For some, it takes a lot to get motivated to become early writers. Not me. Once I'm out of bed, I'm ready to go. It's the getting out of bed part that's tough. I mean, emotionally tough. Sometimes, I actually get a bit weepy when the alarm goes off, but as soon as my feet hit the cold floor, the anxiety goes away.

Most people write in the morning because it's typically a time of uninterrupted bliss. I have four children so morning writing time is truly a treat whenever I can get it. But since I usually take the bus to the office, I crack open the laptop on the back row and tap away. Luckily, my college actor training gives me the ability to block out all the commotion found on a city bus.

Wednesday, I spent the entire ride home writing some great material. I mean this was stuff that was really getting me choked up. I had just saved it and written a few more lines when the battery went dead and the laptop shut off. Deep in the throes of writing, I wasn't keeping track of the power meter, so the sudden loss of power wasn't expected. But I had definitely saved my work and had written just a few more lines before the portable blackout.

Since I was working on a new series of essays, I wasn't using my usual favorite writing tool, Celtx. Instead, I was writing in OpenOffice Writer. I'm a huge fan of open source software and typically opt for it if it's designed well and does what I need. And since OpenOffice does practically everything Microsoft Word does, it seemed like a natural choice.

Now, with all its fantastical features, OpenOffice has this hemorrhoid of a feature called Document Recovery. What's supposed to happen in the event of an in-writing meltdown is this: When you power back up and start OpenOffice, it asks you if you want it to try and recover the data you lost. Then it looks through some kind of temp file and adds it into the most recently saved version. What should have happened is that it should have recovered the few lines I didn't get a chance to save as well as the parts that I did save.

What I got instead was nothing. Nada. Zipperooni. It gave me the same material I started with the day before. It was as though Wednesday's bit of literary brilliance never existed.

I actually felt sick to my stomach. I've tried to sum up the emotional state this put me in and the best I can come up with is this: It was like saving up $5,000 to buy a white rug, getting it home, and having the dog take a runny dump all over it.

I know that sounds pretty bad, but here's the worst part. When I opened the laptop to try to rewrite it, I discovered that I was still so upset that I couldn't even look at the part I left off with two days before.

I'm sure you've had something similar happen to your own writing and if you haven't, you certainly will one day. And it will happen to the best bit of writing you'll do. And you'll be pissed. And you'll get the same lump in your stomach. And you won't feel like working on it again because you know that the stuff you lost was infinitely better than anything you could ever come up with again.

But instead of giving up and walking away from it, try taking a day off from it. Give the ideas you had and lost a chance to work themselves up again and come back. For me, the music I was listening to while writing brought it all back to me. For you, it may be something else. The place you were in. The time of day you were writing before. If you were that upset about losing your work, then you know it's worth coming back to.

And if you manage to take away any lesson from my misfortune, let it be to always check your battery.