Unfortunately, I got to find out this one the hard way. While saying goodbye to my exhausted laptop, it crashed while I was in the process of backing up my files for transfer. Although I am reasonably good at backing up my files on a regular basis, my desktop had new files that are now gone.
At least a dozen short stories and two academic articles as well as an annotated outline for a nonfiction book were among the losses—around a hundred hours of writing disappeared in an instant.
Like any writer, I was devastated to watch the writing disappear into the ether as the proverbial blue screen of death popped up. $200 later and not a single computer geek on earth was able to retrieve the files. They were just gone.
My first thought was of Anne Bradstreet, believe it or not. In her poem, “Verses Upon the Burning of Our House” from 1666 when her house burned in front of her and she lost everything. Thinking of losing the whole house definitely lessens the blow of losing some files. Yes, I lost writing that I have been working on for the last couple of months, but I do not have to rebuild my life, just the words on my pages.
As writers, we hold onto our words in a different way than other hobbyists. Think of another hobby—woodworking or knitting. If I am knitting a sweater and it turns out horribly because the wool is stained after I started using it to make a sweater, I accept defeat and move on. If the wood pile that I use as my store get soaked overnight and I run out of good ash or oak for finishing the dresser I am building, then I accept defeat and move on. We seem to recognize that when we engage in a creative activity, there may be setbacks and those setbacks are acceptable.
When we write, those words feel like a basket of butterflies—precious, delicate, and fragile. One harsh wind and they could be gone forever. For a variety of reasons, when we write, the activity is so personal, so connected to our development and revelation of self, and so real and true that to lose words can feel like the loss of a part of ourselves.
And yet, we kill our darlings every time we engage in the writing process. With each edit, we replace a favorite phrase with a better fit, even though we may be less emotionally connected to it. We cut whole paragraphs and whole pages to hone the rough edges of stories and make them clearer. Every time that we approach writing, the editing process is part of our thoughts.
Words are temporary. Yes, the process of writing is therapeutic, it is restorative, and it is trans-formative. When we write, we become writers. We become not just craftspeople but masters of the art of literature; our thoughts, feelings, hopes and intentions all get wrapped up in packages of words that we long dearly to share with the world.
Our words hold meaning beyond what they say about your chosen topics. They hold meaning in that they proclaim who we are—essayists, memoirists, novelists, and poets. Our writing is more than writing, rather it is a definition of self and a clarification of personal and professional purpose.
And yet, words are just words. Stories are just play things. Articles are just symbols on the page. All of these can be rewritten much more easily than a house built of wood that can burn again. Because what happens when you lose your writing? You accept the setback and you keep going. You write some more, you replace what you wrote, and you write something new, because the job of a writer is the put the pen to paper and get to work.
Luckily, when we lose our writing, all we lose are words. We do not lose our homes, our memories, or our friends; we just lose our darlings for a short time until we recreate them anew in a new story or article. As writers, we are lucky to be able to rebuild from the ashes something more beautiful that what we had before.
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