A Writer’s Worst Nightmare

There is something out there that we writers live in terror of. Something that brings such a cringe to our faces when someone talks about it that you’d expect a horror movie soundtrack to start playing in the background. Something to terrible that some people never recover. Is it rejection? Worse than that. Is it really bad reviews? No, it’s even worse than that. What is this horrible thing that sends chills down our backs?

Losing a story.

And guess what, friends. I lost a story last weekend.

UnderwoodKeyboardYep. There I was, typing happily away. I’ve been working on a novella to go along with my Montana Romance series. The title is Sarah Sunshine and it involves several of the minor characters of Cold Springs, Montana. Folks you’ve heard of, who may have had a line or two in Our Little Secrets and Fool for Love, but who take center stage for this story. I’d cracked myself up a few times writing it, sighed over the romance, fanned myself a time or two over the love scene. Finally it was done. Ten lovely chapters and 33,000 words. Excellent! I clicked “Save” (as I’d been doing all along), closed the Word document to back it up and … it was gone.

Yes, gone. Just … gone. I did everything I could think of to get it back. I searched every drive on my computer in every way possible. I asked tech savvy friends online for suggestions. I poured through the Microsoft help page looking for answers. Nope. It was gone. My vicious, lying computer kept telling me that the last time I saved it was on May 22nd. That version had four chapters and 12,000 words. I lost six chapters and 21,000 words. That’s 2/3rds of the book!


Yes, Saturday night was a sad, sad night for me. But strangely enough, I wasn’t as upset as you might think. For one thing, it was just a novella. 21,000 words is not so bad. If it had been 2/3rds of a full-length novel, that would have been another story. By the time I made peace with the fact that it wasn’t coming back, I was resolved to rewrite what I’d lost. I got to work on the painful task the next morning.

The thing is, it’s not so bad rewriting a novel for the first time. I really like these characters and the situation they find themselves in. It’s kind of fun revisiting them. Plus I knew there were some things I was going to have to change anyhow. I’d made some different decisions about the background and personality of the hero and the motivations of the heroine by the time I got to the end of the novella, so it’s been nice to rewrite with that perspective in mind. As soon as I realized the last six chapters were gone, I whipped out my handy pen and paper and wrote extensive outlines of what each of those chapters contained. So in rewriting it’s not like I have to invent the story again for the first time. I’ve found that the writing process is going a lot faster because I already know what happens. I know the structure.

What this whole fiasco has taught me is the importance of backing my work up.

sad little girlWAIT! Before you say anything or even think it, please note! It is not even remotely helpful to a writer who has just lost a story to A) ask them if they back-up their work frequently, B) scold them that they should be backing up their work frequently, C) advise them on the multiple online/cloud back-up services available! NOT HELPFUL. Why? Because we know these things already. And telling us again will not bring the story back! The only appropriate response when a writer tells you they’ve lost a story is, “That’s terrible! I feel so bad for you.”

Because yes, I do back up my work frequently. I use Box.org and a thumb drive and three different computers. I have my Word programs set to auto-save every 2 minutes. This loss was due to a computer malfunction, not any ignorance or fault on my part.

To reiterate, think of it like this: A writer’s stories are like their babies. If someone you know (God forbid) loses a child, would the first thing you say be “You should have taken them to the doctor more” or “Why did you let them play in the street?” or “You should hire a nanny service if you’re going to turn your back on them – here’s the one I use”? No! The first thing you would say is “I’m so sorry for your loss!”

But back to the silver-lining. I really am enjoying rewriting this book. I was ahead of schedule with it anyhow, and it will still be released at the end of August as planned. Best of all, what I’ve written in the last few days is genuinely better than what I’d written the first time around. Maybe all writers need to lose something once in a while and rewrite it. You can get through this!

So forget losing a book as being a writer’s worst nightmare. I’m back to thinking that boneheaded idiots leaving lengthy, negative reviews on my books when they completely missed the point of what I was going for or incorrectly assumed I ripped off my ideas from a tv show that I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of is my worst nightmare!

On another note, I’m away at the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference today through Sunday. I’ll bring back all sorts of fun and juicy tidbits for you next week!

14 thoughts on “A Writer’s Worst Nightmare

  1. That’s terrible! I felt so bad for you, but I’m glad you’re story is better now. ;0) It’s the old “things happen for a reason’ thing.

  2. Ugh. That happened to me once with an essay I was writing, back when I was an undergrad. That panic when you realize your work is just…gone. So sorry you had to experience that – but glad it seems to be resulting in a better novella!

  3. o.O No no no no. Why are you telling us such horror stories?? I live in FEAR of losing my work. Never mind it’s backed up on drives online/harddrives/etc.

    Thank goodness you knew what to rewrite and are happy to do so. I’d be a blubbering mess.

    Have fun at the Con!

  4. Sorry you lost your story. I’m glad you are enjoying rewriting. You are so right about all the backup advice. I lost my website and got tons of backup advice (most useless as it was a website not my hard drive ) and it made me feel worse and not in the least supported by my friends.

  5. Have you tried taking your computer to a shop? One where they know what they’re doing, or one where they specialise in tracking down lost files? I’ve had this happen too and have managed to claw back those seemingly lost files. There are plenty of bits of software online that can hunt through your hard drive and find stuff.

    On the other hand there is fun to be had from rewriting stuff!

  6. You have my deepest sympathies. Not only because it sucks but because this has happened to me…. twice. Once when I was very young and more recently: 2 years ago the day before submitting the final manuscript to my publisher. I even backed it up and sent each chapter to my best friend. All gone. ALL of it. This is not to say my story is more pitiful than yours. But I know this heart wrenching pain and my heart goes out to you.

    Also thank you for posting the tidbits about how not to respond. People just don’t realize how not helpful and hurtful theyre being. *hugs-

  7. Sorry I added to that…but I *think* I said sorry first…it wasn’t a “rub it in your face” type of response. really, I promise! I was just trying to be helpful as some writers I know DO NOT know, or use, multiple means of backing up. So, that’s my story. 🙂 Although, it’s odd how that happened…I’ve never heard of it saving, and then disappearing. Odd, odd, odd. I’ve saved, in so many places, that I thought I lost a story…only to find it later in some place I wasn’t supposed to be saving. But, then, this is computers we are talking about. Wish I could have been there to help. You could also search your hard drive looking for all files with a modified date on that day you lost it. Might help….might not. Still trying. 😀

  8. Technology is weird. We rely on it absolutely – but it is so flaky! And it is, indeed, a writers’ worst nightmare. I had a friend whose hard drive failed with his 95% finished book on it. No backups. Oops. He sent it to a specialist firm that was able to get the data back off the dead drive, but it was very expensive. Plus side? He finished the book, had it published – and won an award for it. One shudders to think what might have happened had the dead disk proven to be irrecoverable.

  9. Thanks so much for the encouragement and comments, everyone! I feel bad that I was away and unable to respond to everyone. But it was a great weekend. Woo hoo!

  10. I lost a magazine feature once the day before the deadline – my first feature for that magazine – when my computer crashed. Oh what horrors. There was nothing for it but to write the feature over from memory. I have never blessed my good memory so much as on that day. Sorry about your novella!

  11. Oh noooooooooooooooo! I am so sorry! That is AWFUL! I did that once with a final paper for my business management class. It was on Enron, twelve pages, completely gone because the school’s system crashed and didn’t save it automatically. Neither did I think to stick it in my Dropbox account. It was due the next day. I had to write the whole thing from memory.
    I am so so so so so so so SO SORRY!
    I hope everything works out for you. Contrariwise, I have nominated you for the WordPress Family award. I know it’s no conciliatory prize, but I hope it does a little bit to make you smile.

  12. I initially had no idea what you meant by ‘losing a story’ . . . I was thinking something along the lines of it just . . . slipping away.
    When I got to the part when I realized that it was GONE, my stomach literally felt like I was going down one of those big drops on a roller coaster – just at the thought of it.

    Even if it’s going better for you now, I’M SO SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS!

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