Monday, January 7, 2013

Bad news and good news

Bad news: As you know, my computer died and I lost all my files.  It's all a great loss, but the worst part is my fiction.  I haven't written much of anything since the kids were born -- writing novels takes a lot of brain space that I just haven't had to spare -- but I had several drafts that I was saving in the hopes of getting back to them someday.  Most important were my three novels.  Novel #1 is a completed, polished second draft.  No worries for that one -- my mother has a hard copy.  How to get it back as a digital version is still tricky, but at least it exists.  Novel #2 is complete as well, but it's going to have to be rewritten I think.  But that's okay too -- when I finished the first draft, I emailed it to several people to read.  I still have it in my Gmail account.  But novel #3 wasn't finished, and so I hadn't shared it with anyone.  I couldn't even remember how much of it I'd written.  Eighty pages?  One hundred?  More than that?  Had I ever rescued my characters from the life raft they'd been sitting on for, oh, six years?  Yes, it's actually the oldest story, abandoned the longest.  I'd written myself into a corner that I was going to need a lot of research to get out of, and I was just waiting for some real free time to do that.  And this file was nowhere to be found.  I searched every folder in my email account -- nothing.  Maybe there might be notes for it in the attic in a notebook, but maybe not.

Good news:  Losing the files motivated me to get back to writing.  I lay awake for several nights (those of you with kids KNOW what a big deal this is) trying to remember the plot and figure out where I wanted to go with it.  I had some good ideas.  Time to get writing.  As I was trying to remember the time period in my life when I had written it, something occurred to me.  I hadn't been using Gmail at the time.  I'd been using Yahoo.  And at the time -- back when I was in college -- my email account was my main location for file storage.  I emailed myself all my important files at the end of every semester, so I could take them home with me.  Might they be in there?

Very good news:  First thing in the morning I searched my Yahoo mail and hit pay dirt!  Novel #1, perfect and complete.  Novel #3, missing some of it (not sure how much) but the majority of it was there!  As a bonus, some pictures from high school and a few poems.

Bad news:  Ugh, I forgot how truly terrible my writing was in novel #3.  I always sound pretentious in a first draft, but this is awful.  I'll probably have to rewrite the whole dang thing.  (But at least I have the 80 pages that I had written, so I can remember what the plot was like.)

Good news: Novel #1, though, is excellent!  I don't mind saying so myself, because when you've let a novel sit for six years, it's kind of like reading someone else's novel.  I couldn't remember, as I read it, what was going to happen next.  Luckily my style was not so horrible in this one.  I changed some formatting and added some explanatory sentences as I read, but that was it.  As I have every time I've read the book -- including the time when I was writing it -- I sobbed at this one scene.  I can't not cry.  It's the saddest thing I've ever read.  I wonder if it would be sad to anyone else or if it's just a me thing.

More good news:  I have gotten to work in earnest on novel #3, which is a sequel to #1 (#2 is a completely different genre, and I am still stuck on how to revise it .... perhaps it needs to age a few more years before I can look at it).  It's taking awful amounts of research.  But the wonderful thing is, we have Wikipedia now!  When I started this book, I checked out dozens of books from the library and found that every single one of them skipped the information I needed.  Now I can find articles on every topic I want, links to primary sources, and a whole organization dedicated to the specific topic I'm talking about.  AWESOMESAUCE.

The past six years have given me enough of a break to see this story with new eyes, cut out the stuff that didn't fit, and radically change the plot.  The thought of losing it all gave me the courage to just start writing again.

Those of you who like to write, I have a recommendation for you.  The next time you get writer's block, might I suggest waiting six years and then taking a pickaxe to your hard drive?

Just kidding.  Go back up your files right now.  Do it.  And then dig up that old Word 98 file, dust it off, and see if you still like it.


Sugar Coater said...

You've inspired me to back up my hard drive, with its numerous photo directories. I also backed up the book I started writing about my career (largely unfinished, but have 60some pages written). Thanks for the kick in the butt I needed. All I had to do was think of losing my thoughts, files and pictures.

Enbrethiliel said...


This is excellent news! I've lost stuff before, too: every writer has. And starting from scratch feels a little like rebuilding your home after a tornado leveled it. Half your mind is a little in denial that all that hard work of building and decorating and maintaining a perfectly good home has "gone with the wind;" and the other half is ready to soldier on through whatever it takes. (Or am I just talking about myself again? =P)

Last November, I started writing fiction again for the first time in years. Well, Fan Fiction. =P Which seems to be considered the lowest form of fiction there is. But it was really great to be writing again. I had forgotten the feeling! So I'm very happy for you now. =)

By the way, this post reminds me a little of Flirty's recent post about not wanting to give up her writing when she becomes a mother. Maybe you two will be part of a new wave of Catholic writers who are also mothers and not feeling guilty about it. ;-)

Meredith said...

Oh, Sheila! :-( Hard drives are heartbreakers, aren't they? I'm glad you were able to salvage so much of your fiction, though. Novel 1 sounds quite intriguing - I would like to have a good cry over a novel after finishing The Idiot, which was unspeakably annoying! (Dostoevsky, seriously - your idea of a saint is a codependent ninny who rants about how evil the Catholic Church is?)

To return to computers: my brother installed some kind of wizard software that automatically backs up my hard drive once a month - if you can have your computer back itself up on a home server, that's probably the best (or you can find a file storage site).

I think it's terrific that your near-death experience kick started your writing again! Did you see this essay?

We will TOTALLY be those Catholic Writer Moms. :-)

Enbrethiliel said...


I hadn't known that about The Idiot! 8-0

Well, that's one Dostoevsky I can feel less guilt about putting off. =P

Sheila said...

Enbrethiel, I have been reading the bits of your FF on your blog ... though since I don't know the original story, I didn't feel qualified to comment. ;) The writing is good though.

Meredith, I think I can send you novel #1 if you've got time to read it. It IS uplifting in the end.

Re: the article -- wow, yes, exactly. We ARE going to be that kind of mother.

Anonymous said...


Are ou looking for an agent for Novel 1 - or can I buy it soon?

Sheila said...

Momsomniac, I wish I knew. I would really like to publish it "for real," but don't even know where to start. I guess the days of reading publishers' addresses off the spines of books and sending them unsolicited manuscripts are over -- but I don't know where one finds agents, or whether my book is good enough. And of course there's the fear of rejection that makes me want to leave it on my hard drive forever (appropriately backed up of course).

The self-publishing option is tempting, because all I really want is people to read it, not to quit my day job. (Like I could.) The downside is that I don't know if anyone would buy it. And then there's the question of ebook vs. print. I don't know if anyone wants to read my book enough to pay $15 for a hard copy, but I personally can't abide ebooks and don't have a reader of my own -- which is why I haven't read your book yet, though I'm fascinated by the premise. I guess at some point I'll figure out how to buy it on John's kindle and borrow it long enough to read it.

Ooh, ooh! Blog readers! People reading these comments! Get Momsomniac's novella, The Pied Piper of St. May. It has a really pretty cover and the premise is quite intriguing!

Do you have any advice about publishing?

Anonymous said...

First, I suggest that you have someone who will be frank with you edit your work - not just for grammar and spelling, but for continuity and flow, overuse of specific words, believability ...etc.

I'd only suggest self-publishing after that and if you don't want to try to get published elsewhere.

With Pied Piper, BEFORE I had my friend edit it, I'd submitted it so many places, and had it "held for consideration" so many times, that re-submitting the edited (better) version seemed unprofessional.

I like duotrope for finding venues, but it is no longer free:

I'd suggest you get a recent version of "Writer's Market" from the library and start there. If you want a copy you can mark up, you can usually get the previous year's version for a few bucks. I like Alibris for used book shopping:

Please keep us posted! Whatever path you chose, I'm in line to buy a copy!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I voted "hard copy." I am old-fashioned about books. I don't have (or want) an e-reader. Otherwise, I'd have voted "any format."

Sheila said...

Thanks for all the advice!

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