Death of a Manuscript

Dealing with the loss of my own unpublished words.

Last week, I discovered that a file containing the manuscript for a novel I was working on was gone.

The file lived in my laptop, which is what I was using to write it. It was backed up on my main computer’s hard disk. I had decided two or three months ago to keep working copies of all my fiction on my iDisk space. (iDisk is part of the .Mac services available for Macintosh users. It gives you 1 GB of storage space on an Apple server that can be shared among all of your computers.) The idea was that by keeping the files there, I could work on them from any computer and always have the most recent version.

Somewhere along the line, while copying the folder containing this file to my iDisk space, the file was lost. I’m not sure how it happened, but I do recall getting an error message when I made the copy. I should have investigated more closely, but I didn’t. The file was gone and because I didn’t work on it for months, I didn’t realize it was gone.

The backup copy, of course, was lost in my February hard disk crash.

I spent most of a day playing with file recovery software to get the file back. I managed to retrieve about 2 of the 97 pages I’d written.

Obviously, I’m not very happy about this. I’d been working on this project on and off for about four years. There was a lot of me in it. I’d written a lot of good dialog and some pretty strong scenes. It wasn’t perfect — the characterization on a few of the characters was just not good enough — but what was good was very good. A lot of “keeper” stuff in there.

And now its gone.

I find the task of recreating this work daunting. Lately, I just don’t feel that I have the writing skills I need to write fiction. I have my outline, my index cards for scenes, my character notes. I can clearly remember lots of the scenes and even some of the dialog. But I don’t feel confident that I can rewrite what I lost. I know that when it comes time to sit down and type it all back into my word processor, there will be something lacking. It just won’t be as good or as complete.

Fortunately, this was the only manuscript I lost (other than the partially completed Chapter 6 of my Excel for Windows book, which was easy, if not tedious, to recreate). My other fiction manuscripts remain safe, now backed up to three places. But although I’ve been toying with them for far longer — one of them originates back in my teenage years when I wrote longhand in spiral bound, college ruled notebooks — the loss of this one seems to hurt more. It was a more mature work, a more marketable work. It, unlike my other fiction scribbling, had a future, possibly in print.

Time is now my main obstacle to picking up this work and recreating it. I’m juggling two jobs: as a technical writer and a helicopter pilot. I’m having a hard enough time getting both of those jobs done. At the end of a working day, I’m mentally exhausted and not prepared to tackle a recreational writing assignment. (That’s one of the reasons I do 90% of my blogging first thing in the morning.) So who knows when this work might be resurrected?

Perhaps it’s something to look forward to in my retirement years.

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