A hole in my memory

As I noted in a recent post, the hard drive in my laptop failed last week. The computer is less than a year old — it’s a MacBook, and I can’t imagine how anyone could write in a Windows environment, but that’s a discussion for a different day — and it is under warranty. The old hard drive was a complete loss. No data could be retrieved from it. I now have a new hard drive installed, and I was able to migrate all of the data and settings from my old laptop onto the new hard drive. So I’m back in business.

Unfortunately, and deep shame on me, I hadn’t made a back up of my novel-in-progress, The Sleep of Reason, for too long. (My shame runs even deeper. I’ve lost all of the notes I was compiling for my next novel, though this was comparatively minimal, and I’ll be able to recreate most of it from analog memory — given enough iced tea that is. I haven’t even begun to assess what notes I may have lost for the various Finnegan novels I’m contemplating.)

This means I’ve lost the two most recent chapters I had written. I don’t remember the specifics, but I’m certain it represents more than 10,000 words, probably closer to 15,000. These were key chapters to the development of the story and the protagonist. There is a big hole in the creation of this story.

Knowing this, when the data recovery outfit told me nothing could be retrieved, threw me into a blue funk. For several days I thought about giving up altogether on this novel. Too much had been lost, I told my deluded self. It would be impossible to create it again. The momentum of the story telling would be interrupted, and no patch could be made smooth and seamless enough to repair it.

Then I tried to persuade myself that maybe I had saved the data in some other place. I scoured emails wondering if a chapter might have been attached. Of course none was. This novel exists solely in my mind and in the billions of bits and bytes in my computer. All that was left was all that I had. If I was going to salvage the story (already at 30,000+ words in the surviving files), I would just have to roll up my sleeves and get busy with the hard work.

It is proving impossible to recreate those two lost chapters, but that is a good thing. I know what the chapters need to do, and I’ve already managed to get down more than a thousand words of the first. What I am finding, though, is that this is new writing. It is a fresh approach to what must happen. I can’t match word-for-word the missing text, but I don’t need to. It seems that there is no one right way to do this story telling. My tale can progress from the swirling in my mind the way it is now rather than as it was two months or so ago. There is still a story to be told. Now I’m just doing it a different way. I don’t think this different way is better or worse. It’s just different. And if it gets me across the chasm of the two missing chapters, if it fills that chasm with new words, then the job is done.

I was soon enough over my blue funk, and once I was I found myself continuing to make notes about how the story should progress. Bits of character development. Dialogue. Strong images. The story was still in my head, clamoring to get out, and I continued with my note making while the story continued to evolve in my head. This was heartening. I faced merely a setback, not a cancellation. The new chapters will come (though months of progress will be lost) and the rest of the story will flow from them.

So I’m in a much better mood now than I was a week ago. But let this be a warning to you and me. Make frequent back ups!

(I’m looking into some automated back up systems and even offsite storage so that my human frailty won’t do this to me again. If you have any experience or recommendations with these, I’d be glad to hear about it.)

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Explore posts in the same categories: Humble efforts, Sleep of Reason

One Comment on “A hole in my memory”

  1. May Says:

    I am sorry for the loss of part of your novel. Well, you are right, there’s no other choice than writing the lost parts again.

    I, too, use a MacBook Pro at home and, despite being 15 months old, the battery doesn’t work well. Weren’t Apple computers supposed to be perfect machines?

    As regards automatic back up, I think that Leopard has a feature called Time Machine that is helpful in this sense.


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