Yesterday, I lost words.
On Friday at Write-Club, I’d finished a 6000 word first draft of a story. I left it alone on Saturday to percolate. On Sunday I felt I’d give it a read over, maybe do some editing if the spirit moved me thus … which, happily, it did.
I started on the hard copy as is my wont and marked up the first five pages, then went to the soft copy and made those changes, also doing some extra writing and re-writing as I went, for this is my process. Feeling fine, I went further and did on-screen editing of a further six pages – pages I knew were clunking and holey as donuts. I knew they needed attention to transitions, story logic, character inconsistencies, set-up, connections, etc. But that was a first draft, so it was okay. Second draft is where you start making sure the bones are connected under the story’s flesh and that the flesh itself is nice and firm.
I was so happy with the work I did. I stopped when I heard my brain begging for choclit and the story was looking at me as though I’d worn out my welcome. This was fine – always stop while you’re ahead otherwise you may just be writing crap on top of a run of good stuff.
Then I closed the document. Then I emailed it to myself from my work PC. Then I opened it to check I’d attached the right doc … and found that I’d not saved the changes. And the auto save on the PC was apparently not working.
I didn’t cry because, quite frankly, my brain shorted out. There may even have been wisps of smoke coming off my head and out my ears, accompanied by a slight scent of eau de burning. But I think I was suffering the kind of numbness you get when a shock is so great that your brain ceases to operate – when the only thing you can do is carry on with the ordinary things that you know you can do successfully. Like making a cup of tea without inflicting self-injury – who can bollocks that up? You need to know, somewhere in the back of your wounded grey matter, that some small task is easy for you. And after all, the accidental deletion of tea is an unlikely occurrence.
It was the agony of delete. I didn’t want to use that line, but I know Jason Fischer will read this and if I don’t preempt the pun it will open up a world of opportunity for him.
So, I went home. I had my hard copy notes for the first 5 pages and I sat down and re-created those. The worst thing is the nagging sensation that what you’re doing now just isn’t as good. You’re not working with the same spark you had when you were rewriting the first time around, when your brain was floating and free and you were shifting words and paragraphs and new ideas were being generated like a universe forming and wheeling. Oh, no. This, this thing you’re doing now feels workman-like … it has all the finesse of a bad builder slopping cement between the bricks of a shaky wall. It feels like you let your pet monkey go play out on the road and it got squished.
It feels awful.
And I have tried all the little tricksy bits to recover the file, to suck those lost and abandoned words back onto the page. And nothing works. And so all I can do is this: howl into the void and excoriate myself. And, of course, pick myself up, put salve on my grazed literary knees, pull up my frill-topped socks and shine my lil black Mary-Janes, and just start over again. Pen to paper, fingers to keys, brain to ideas, no crying. Suck it up or go home, solider.
To keep it all in perspective, I watched this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoBTsMJ4jNk to remind me that some days, nothing goes write [sic] for anyone. ‘It’s a Mr Grim about the reaping …’ – there’s something special about Terry Jones in a dress.