Wednesday, March 16, 2011

WIP Wednesday

Last Friday I hid away in a hotel in the foothills of the Alps and finished the first draft of Thunderstruck. I was scheduled for a critique of the first chapter with the fabulous Sara Grant (a commissioning editor at Working Partners and co-founder of Undiscovered Voices) the next morning, and it was my personal goal to have the MS done before I met with her.

It wasn't a smooth ride. Oh no, that would be way too simple. A smooth ride? I wouldn't bother writing about that here. Doesn't make a good story, you know.

source (this isn't where I was, but I didn't take pictures, and this is lovely, isn't it?)  
I was madly typing away, at the height of the story's climax--exciting things happening to my MC, who was fighting for his life--my fingers flying over the keys, and then--

The screen went black. At first I expected it to flicker and come back up. But the  dying sound of the fan and lack of power lights told a different story. Either the computer had decided it simply couldn't take any more excitement for one day, or the gods I'd been writing about really didn't want this story told. (Yes, I seriously considered both options.)

I developed a sudden case of asthma* the air rasping through my throat as it tried to reach my lungs.

You see, I had done something that seemed like a good idea a few hours before. Originally, I had the working document on a memory stick (I had borrowed Beloved Husband's laptop for the weekend). But surely, I thought, the file would be safer on the hard drive. Fewer chances for error when saving. I'd just back up to the memory stick. So I saved it to the hard drive and worked from that. But hadn't backed it up since making the little switcheroo.

Jumping up from the chair, I said a number of rude words. Maybe the power had gone out?** I checked. The lamps worked and the little light on the power cord was on. Only the laptop wasn't working.

*insert f-bomb here*

Okay, stay calm. Turn it on, maybe it will just reboot.

Disk error. Press any key to restart.

Okay, I can handle that. I hit a key.

Disk error. Press any key to restart.

Maybe I hit the wrong key. Try another one this time.

Disk error. Press any key to restart.

I'm starting to notice a pattern. Click.

Disk error. Press any key to restart.

And again...

Disk error. Press any key to restart.

*repeat f-bomb word* *several times* (I don't swear often, but this seemed an appropriate occasion.)

Disk error. What were the chances of my most recent version still being there when (if?) I got the thing running again?

Laughing semi-hysterically, I shut it down. Then I wrote down an outline of everything I could remember from the last six (yes six) chapters. Everything I'd written since I'd relocated my working document. And then, in the wisdom that crisis imparts, I decided that maybe some unseen force wanted me to enjoy the sunshine in the Alps, rather than sit at a desk all day.

So off I went, to wander around in the forest. The trees soothed me. I wandered down a narrow path and happened upon a pond, still covered with ice. It sat at the top of a hill, and I followed a meadow down, down, through marshy, boggy lowland, then up a trail on the far side. A deer heard me coming and leaped away through the trees.

Despite my disaster, all was right with the world. Maybe the computer would be okay when I got back.

After two hours, I returned to the hotel and stared at the laptop. Dare I try to reboot? Could I handle another Disk error message? Would I be able to finish the ms before morning?

I opened the laptop, hesitated, then pushed the power button. Lights flashed, the computer whirred and I waited. I'm not sure I breathed while it booted up, but boot it did. And all I'd lost was the last two pages.

I wrote them better the second time.

*I don't have asthma, but now I know what it feels like.
**I was not thinking rationally; I later realized that even if the power went out, the battery would have kept the laptop going.

Because I was single-mindedly focused on writing, I didn't learn of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan until I had finished the manuscript later that night. And I felt like a fool. My crisis was nothing, absolutely nothing, in the face of what was (and still is) happening there. The people of Japan are in my thoughts and prayers.

So what about you? What's the worst (writing-related) catastrophe you've experienced?


  1. I brought my WIP to middle school for a day. I showed it to the boy I liked during lunch.

    This resulted in me hiding in the writer-closet for the next ten years.

  2. So far none - only because I haven't started serious writing yet.

    Things happen for a reason - in your case two - for you to enjoy the Alps, and for an improved page two.

    As I type this the death toll in Japan exceeds 15,000, quite a catastrophe...

  3. Thanks so much for sharing that. I am sorry it happened to you, but it made me think about how I can get so involved with my own self that I fail to see the 'ALps' around me. Know what I mean?

    And lucky you writing in the ALPS!!!

    So glad you only lost tow pages in the end. Oh, and if it makes you feel any better, I have been known to swear like a trooper when my computer plays up (which is not that often thankfully)

  4. Christine: That's so sad! Glad you're out of the writer-closet now. :)

    Grandpa: In the scheme of things, I think getting outside to fully appreciate nature was probably more important. I was completely in the moment for those two hours.

    Tab: I was very lucky. It was only because the meeting with Sara was set there, and I took a couple of extra days for myself.

  5. Alison, Your post was breathtaking! I can only imagine how riveting those two new pages must be!

  6. Oh my goodness this sounds awful!! I need to take a walk in the trees after reading your horrible adventure. I am glad that you only lost 2 pages. As writers, I think losing the work is really hard when we measure our progress by those words.

  7. I was holding my breath the whole time I read this post! I'm sure the reason it didn't turn out to be a total catastrophe is because you kept your attitude in the right place.

    The comment about Japan moved me very deeply. It's so easy to get caught up in things that seem important, but at the end of the day, despite how attached we are to them, they are just words on a page. They can be reformed. Some things cannot - and those are the things (read: people) we need to cherish most.

  8. The Alps...seriously! I'm glad you only lost two pages...have you ever looked into Dropbox? I use it for backing up often.

    Your thoughts about Japan are so insightful. It's important to remember what really matters...and usually it boils down to people.


  9. Clara: Thank you!

    Corinne: I couldn't agree more.

    Julie: I agree. Sometimes we need to take a step back to evaluate what really matters.

    Carla: I live in Berlin, so it wasn't a big stretch. :) And I use Dropbox, but I tend to back up only once a day. I was on such a roll, I hadn't done it yet.

  10. Oh my. I was gasping for air right along with you. How horrible. I am glad that it all worked out for the best. I am also glad that you got to take some time for you! :)

  11. That was a tense horror story with a happy ending. Once nearly thirty years ago, I had a briefcase filled with my notebooks filled with writings stolen when my van was broken into in Colorado. I still think about those notebooks and wish I had them. I could never re-create all that was contained in those books, and I curse that thief to this day.

    Tossing It Out

  12. Regina: Me too! :)

    Lee: How awful! And the sad thing is, the person who took them probably just dumped them somewhere (that or they've published some of your ideas). ;)

  13. Oh! Too much excitment - I'm so glad there was a happy ending!