Exactly Where It Hurts
Posted by aahabershaw
This is a post for non-writers. This is a post intended to inform you of something you might not know about your writing friends. Well, your serious writing friends. Okay, for your serious, crazy writing friends, anyway. I know it sounds really specific, but there are a lot of us. Believe me.
To the seriously crazy writer – most of your poets and fiction writers, nearly all novelists, and many other writers – their work is alive. Not “alive” in that metaphoric sense we sometimes apply to clearly not-alive things, like electrical wires or wind gusts, but really, honestly alive. Their work is like a person they can talk to. Their work is a friend or, occasionally, a nemesis or lover or (sometimes) an abuser. In any event, your crazy writer friend is in a relationship with their writing that is more like a relationship with a person than it is with a thing. I’m not joking about this. Seriously, it isn’t funny. I mean it.
Why is this important? Well, it is important for your own safety and well-being as well as the safety and well-being of your relationship with said seriously crazy writer person. Here, let me tell you a story:
Last week, I was doing my damnedest to finish the latest draft of the third book in the Saga of the Redeemed. Due to my job as a college professor, my writing time is basically restricted to the times between semesters, since I have so much work during the semester very little writing can get done. Each day of semester break is a precious resource, not to be squandered. This novel (ALL THAT GLITTERS) is due on May 1st, which means this semester break is one of the last times I have to give it my undivided attention before it will be due.
I had just finished a day of revising and writing, my brain totally fried, when I realized I hadn’t backed up my work in a few days. So, having lost data before in a hard drive crash a year ago (while working on this precise book, actually), I resolved to back it up right away. The only problem was this: because of how seamlessly my cloud-based back-up account meshes with my hard drive, it is very easy for a tired person to confuse the new document with the back-up document and Microsoft Word’s most recent iteration uses a “copy-over” warning that is counterintuitive to read. So,
what did I do? Yep. I copied over the new file with the back-up file.
I think I screamed “NOOOOOO!” for a literal fifteen minutes. My fight-or-flight response triggered and I was jittery with adrenaline for something like 18 hours. I didn’t sleep that night. My hands shook. I cannot possibly explain to you my TOWERING RAGE.
All this over 10,000 words of a rough draft of an unpublished manuscript not due for months. Ridiculous, right? Well, sure. But you gotta understand: to me, those 10,000 words were part of something alive I was making. Losing it because of my own stupidity felt, essentially, like I had shot my own dog. I didn’t feel normal again until I had started to write those 10K words over again.
Now me, being the over-sharing type, stupidly posted to Facebook about how upset I was over losing all that work. They kept offering ways to fix the problem, both in public and in private, for days. Each suggestion was two things:
- Useless. This wasn’t a “lost data” thing, this was a “I willingly destroyed my own data because I was an idiot” thing.
- Like stabbing me.
I know these people meant well, and it was nice of them to reach out, but, seriously, I felt like I was being stabbed. Each suggestion just brought to mind all the various ways I could have saved my data if only it had been deleted/lost by accident and not copied over on purpose. It was like somebody walking up to me and saying “Oh, hey–I heard your kid got hit by a bus! Good thing you can just use this magic pill to bring him back to life!” Except that magic pill won’t work for my kid, because his head was ripped off and tossed into a woodchipper after the accident.
(Did I go too far there? Yeah, I went too far. Apologies to anybody who’s lost somebody in a woodchipper accident.)
Knowing this, I shouldn’t have posted anything at all and nursed my grief over my lost work privately, since I know my reaction is essentially crazy and I was not fit to interact with normal humans during that period. The experience, of course, brought to mind that most people don’t know how it feels to lose a chunk of work that is so important to you that it seems alive. The best comment I got on that (stupid) facebook status was from a fellow author, Gina Damico (who has a new book out, by the way – HELLHOLE. Go and buy it!), who wrote:
(vomits in sympathy) Oh my God, I am SO SORRY! (vomits again)
Yeah, that pretty much summed it up. I felt like I wanted to vomit. I had shot my own dog, with nobody to blame but myself.
So, anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that, should an author close to you have one of these tragedies of loss (hard drive explodes, half a novel is wiped, etc., etc.), you really ought to treat them as though a good friend of theirs was just put in the hospital and you are there to support them in their time of need. Your author will appreciate it.