“Wait a minute. It was just here! I just pulled it up to make some changes! Now it’s gone?”
If you’ve never experienced the above scenario in your writing, you are fortunate. And yes, that’s about how it usually goes. Surprise. Shock. Denial. Panic. Tears.
Late last year I had the supreme excitement of finishing my fifth novel. A couple of days after typing the closing scene, I decided I wasn’t quite finished. So I wrote another closing scene and was happy with it. Next day, it was gone. Poof. Disappeared. Apparently the victim of a mini-crash.
Three weeks ago, I completed the third chapter of my sixth novel. Ten thousand words. Seven or eight days of work. A few nights later I pulled it up again. I was multi-tasking; watching streaming sports and arguing with someone on FB about politics (hey, we all need a hobby, right?). Somehow along the way, I deleted the whole chapter. All ten thousand words. Not just deleted, but lost. No trace. Gone forever.
Yes, in both cases, the scenario was true and followed script.
Anytime you are working on a computer, there is a chance all your work will be lost. Hard drives crash. Files get misfiled. Stuff gets highlighted and deleted by mistake. It happens to all of us at least once in our writing careers. So what to do?
The first thing, of course, is realize you will panic. You will weep and wail. You will be angry, in denial, furious that such a thing could happen. Hopefully, you will stop before you hurt someone, hurt yourself, or damage your computer beyond repair. Please, don’t do these things. It’s not worth it. Again, speaking from experience.
But anger is fine. Frustration is OK. Sadness will come. Rage is not acceptable, however. You’re an adult. You can be mad as you want, but rein it in when you’ve shed your tears and shouted at the walls.
You will likely find yourself numb for a while. This, too, is normal. You may not be able to immediately start reconstructing what you’ve lost. This is probably a good idea. Get away for a bit. Go for a walk. Direct your attention elsewhere. Yes, it will linger in your mind, but give yourself a break and, once the initial shock has passed, move to acceptance. You’ve messed up. Your computer messed up. The gods were angry. Whatever. “Cast out anger”, as the Vulcans say.
In the case of my missing scene last year, I slept on it; however badly, I slept on it. Two days later, I started the new last scene. It wasn’t exactly the same. It wasn’t exactly right. But it would do for now. And as the week progressed, I tweaked it a bit, and it ended up fine.
My theory about writing is, your brain is ROM (read-only memory), and your story resides in it. Once you’ve downloaded (written) the story to the page, it’s gone from your mind. It then exists as RAM (random-access memory) that you can look at and change as necessary. But the original story, the words you wrote initially, are gone. After all, you have your page, right?
That’s why we can’t reconstruct things exactly as they were. And this is the real source of our panic. We’ll never have those words again; in that order, in those phrases and sentences, with those inflections and meanings. And when we lose them, we’re crushed beyond belief.
Your characters will likely stop talking to you, for a day, a week, maybe forever, who knows? But if they’re dear to you, then you, the author, are dear to them. And they’ll come back.
For a while, it will be a tenuous relationship, like after a serious fight with your significant other. Trust has been broken and must be reformed. Hearts have been wounded, deeply. Give it time. No matter how much you want to start pounding the keys again, give it a chance to heal first. Then begin again.
You will find, as I did, the real meaning of your story, then. You may decide things were really not going as you had planned and need adjusting. Maybe the pace was too slow, or too fast, or in the wrong direction. Consider then, you have a chance to make it better. Not the same, for certain, because those words are gone. But difference isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
And for all the pain you’ve just experienced, consider it a lesson from which to learn. You’re a writer, an author. You have the ability. You can rebuild it. You can find the trust again.
And you’ll smile when you realize you passed the test.