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Author's selfieThis morning I told a story twice. I recorded at least part of it the first time (but thought it hadn’t recorded any of it), then recorded it again when I told it the second time.

Today was an example of what happens when manuscripts are lost.

Telling It Twice

I find the loss of manuscript pages disconcerting. You’ve been in a flow state, the words pouring out as if the Muse sits on your shoulder whispering the stories into your ear with the softest of kisses. It’s all that you can do to keep your fingers moving—or mouth shaping words—fast enough to tell the story forming. Even though you may later cycle back through what was written and choose to discard some or part of what was written, that is a choice made in the creative process.

The loss of words written is something else. It’s arbitrary and unplanned. A customer in the Starbucks laughing too loudly with her friend hits your table with her hip, knocking your Iced Cascara Coconutmilk Latte over onto your keyboard to permanently ice your story or chapter or whatever into oblivion. It’s saving a new empty file over your 70,000-word in-progress novel and lacking any version control or backup copies. Okay, maybe not that bad, but the point is that two things happen in this sort of case.

First, you race through the twelve steps over the course of a minute as you deny what has happened, curse, and work through to acceptance. It has happened, the story that seemed like a bright and shining jewel is gone. Second, if it is a story you really wanted to tell, you start over.

The Weight of Ghost Words

Starting over makes sense and is also difficult at times. The echoes of that previous draft float around in your brain shaking their chains. Perhaps you’re a mutant with the power to recall exactly every word as you originally wrote it. Ordinarily a curse, but in this case, useful since a complete backup exists in your head and you only need to put it down again.

I don’t have a memory like that. I make up stories for Drive-By Stories on the fly. I don’t mess with the digital recorder while driving. Instead, I simply tell the story to the road trippers that I imagine are keeping me company in the passenger seat. Sometimes, when looking at the transcribed copy, I have no idea what I was trying to say. But that’s okay. I have the recording, I can listen to it if it is important.

It’s hard, though, to redraft a story you just told. Parts of your brain do know what was said and will chitter away when you change the story. And you will because you don’t remember it perfectly. Hopefully, you’ll get back into the flow state and will just be telling the story again. If you can exorcise the ghosts of words past.

This Morning

This morning I experienced one of these moments. At least partly, I think. When I reached work and parked, I picked up the recorder and discovered it was off. It had gone to sleep. And as a result, it seemed clear that I hadn’t after all managed to record the story. The whole drive to work, the story I had made up, lost.

I didn’t have time to contemplate this long, for about a minute as I’d said earlier. I picked up a company car to head out to a library, turned on the recorder, and told the story again. I changed it.  I added details, shifted the story. By the time I reached the library I decided that it must be a better version.

Now, looking at the recording, it shows two recordings. What happened? I don’t know. The likely answer? I put my thermos down on the recorder, hitting the stop button to turn off the recording. I’ll see what the transcribed copies show, but it looks like I’ll have two versions of the story to use when I redraft it, even if one is incomplete.

That’s not too bad.

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This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.