Share this...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writer's Life...Lost Word Children (Or having a "Gibbons" Moment)

On Monday I suffered a "writer's disaster", 3000 of my carefully crafted word-children went wandering into the cyber woods and never came out.

Edward Gibbons
I call these moments - that awful realisation that an entire day's work has vanished - a "Gibbons" moment, for reasons I will relate.

It was the fault of the cat. Come 4.30pm on the dot and Oliver Kat appears, interposing himself between the keyboard and the screen - a large furry sight screen. (I am sure he thinks his name is "Get down! You're a b@#$$%^ nuisance!").  A quick glance at my watch told me that, apart from a demanding feline, I had my own dinner to prepare before shooting off to my 6.00pm exercise class. The result was a hasty computer shut down.  "Do you wish to save changes?" Word enquired. Thinking I was in the OTHER document, I clicked "No" and my day's work vanished. Now before you say...autosave...I have a new computer and it is not fully configured yet.

I do all my writing in Scrivener these days. I love the "helicopter" view it gives you of the structure of your manuscript. It also autosaves so there is never a lost child. Unfortunately I considered my manuscript was "finished" (as if any manuscript ever is!). I had uploaded it as a complete manuscript (again another Scrivener feature) into Word to give me that "completed" manuscript feel on which to run my eye for minor errors and discrepancies. As so often happens, I realised it actually needed some fairly major structural work including the reordering of scenes and the writing of a couple of new chapters.

Fortunately I had emailed a bit of the work with some of the more minor edits to a friend for comment but not the new writing so an afternoon's work disappeared in a key stroke. 

Moral of story... 
1. Do major editing in Scrivener. 
2. Make sure Word is configured to autosave.
3. SAVE my work at frequent intervals. 

In my shaky defence, if I am working in Word, I  do save any work in progress to Dropbox (as well as to the hard drive of my computer) so whichever computer I am (including the iPad) I have access to my latest version.

And if I feel like kicking the cat...I have to remember the loss of 3000 words is not really a disaster compared to that suffered by Edward Gibbons, the eighteenth century historian and author of a monumental treatise called THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. Gibbons spent years writing this work, by hand, of course. The manuscript completed, it sat in his study awaiting dispatch to his publisher. The new maid, short of kindling for the fire on a cold winter's day, found a useful pile of paper and dispatched the only copy of THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE up the chimney. One can imagine she probably left his employ without a reference and Gibbons began all over again. The truth may be she didn't burn all of it...but it makes a good story!

The 6 volumes of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
And Edward is in good (if somewhat strange company). Jilly Coooper relates the tale of her lost manuscript "It was awful, awful. I'd finished the first draft, I went out to lunch and then I got the bus home – the number 22 bus – and I left it behind. I had this somewhat lovely fantasy of the West Indian bus driver publishing a novel about showjumping but it never happened. Everyone was very kind and the Evening Standard put out an appeal. That was 1970 I think. Then I suppose it was 14 years later, I started writing it again. I hate to be conceited but I think it's probably one of the best books I ever wrote because the characters had built up over 15 years."

So whenever I lose any writing, I just keeping repeating "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" as a mantra and I feel much better.