Tony’s Thinking…On Losing a Story

A few months ago, I’d just finished writing another novel, and was wondering (maybe dreaming would be a better word) what would happen if I was suddenly granted my wish…to be a full time writer and at that a famous full time writer. Kind of suddenly discovered like JK Rowling, people everywhere reading one of my books.

What would my life be like? Imagine that…never having to leave for work in the morning and never having to drive through snow or rain or rush hour traffic. To sit at my desk all day and (to quote Steven Spielberg) ‘to dream for a living’.

But it wouldn’t be all regular royalty cheques and a quiet home. I know I’d get easily distracted, sitting there in an empty house. I’d be forever checking my Goodreads reviews, my Facebook friends. There would be constant pressure to Tweet my every move. Not to mention the endless meetings and flying to Hollywood to meet with Mr Spielberg for the movie deal, and the endless parties and other things I’m sure I’d hate. Would be tough, I’m sure, having to fly to the Caribbean and lie on a beach.

I digress into my fantasy there, but thinking about how my life would change set me thinking about a story, as such things do. I imagined a housewife, bored with her life. She has everything she ever wanted: beautiful home, devoted husband and adorable kids. But still she’s bored. She’s always defined by how other people see how she relates to her family. She’s always a wife, or a mother…never just her.
Finally, she starts writing one day, just to slay the boredom and the incipient feeling that life has more to offer her. She writes, and she writes, telling no one – this is something just for her. Eventually she writes a novel and sends it to an agent, and they accept it, but still she tells no one what she’s doing.

Which is where the story starts: she’s sitting at her kitchen table, looking at an advance from an agent and a publication deal that would free her from her domestic life forever. All she has to do is cash the cheque and make it to the airport, and her life is her own. The story is about how trapped she feels, and whether she’d be more free if she was suddenly flung into the spotlight.

I loved that story. I really felt for that woman and what she was going through. It might have been realistic if she just told her family what she was doing when they came home, but I wasn’t interested in that; I wanted to go through what she was going through.

But here’s the really terrible thing: I lost that story.
I thought I had it saved on at least ONE of the computers I use, or the memory sticks that hold my work, but I can’t find it. I must have saved it somewhere because (being the tech guy I am) I always hit save before I print. And I printed two copies: one for me and one for a writing friend.
I can’t find my printed copy, and I NEVER throw my work away. I have hopes my writing friend can find it and I can re-type it. I’ve even tried a file recovery…but nothing.

Why not recreate it? You might ask. That’s a hard one to explain…stories are ephemeral, flighty things, gone with a breeze. If I re-write it, it won’t be the same story. I know I won’t be able to recreate the same…intimacy…with the woman in the story, I won’t get into her head the way I did when I wrote it on a whim. I won’t know who she is as well as I did before.

I’ve never lost a story before, and it’s gone as though it never existed. And I feel bereft. I’ve lost a story and it feels like I lost a friend as well, and they’re such hard things to grasp at the best of times. I know all the arguments: hit save, hit save, then hit save again. I did. I do.
But this time it wasn’t enough. Farewell, lonely housewife.

I’ll miss you.

(Stop Press 18th June 2012: My writing friend found my story! Thanks Portia! You can read it here)

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6 thoughts on “Tony’s Thinking…On Losing a Story

  1. Erg, the thought of re-typing out a story makes me feel ill.

    I think Jill Cooper left her only copy of an unfinished story on the train once. It took her a good decade or so to get round to writing it again!

  2. I lost a few stories and works in progress once when I left a writing notebook on a train in Sussex. One was a pulpy science-fiction yarn full of stone trees, acid seas and deadly blobs. I didn’t feel I could ever recapture it, so I moved on. Another was a fan-fiction project to write up the Time War from Doctor Who. I left it a while (a couple of years, in fact), but eventually I picked that up and embraced a new direction for it. It’s currently at about 50,000 words and I may go back and finish it one day.

    The third major piece in the book was a bit different in that it had been commissioned (for want of a better word – it was a charity anthology, so it’s not like I was being paid) and there was a deadline pressing. I’d written it out AND edited it longhand, in a South West London pub, over the course of several weeks and dozens of beers.

    So I sat down at my computer and rewrote all 6,000 words from memory. Some stuff probably changed, but I’m inclined to think the story was actually made a bit tighter as a result of a complete blind rewrite. In any case, I got some cracking reviews when the anthology came out. Losing a story is like a punch to the gut, but if someone’s relying on you to make a deadline, you just have to suck it up and start from scratch, if necessary.

  3. Enjoyed reading that, Tony. Really glad your friend found it! Great friend 🙂 I just had that happen because of a malfunctioning Kindle app. Bereft is the perfect word. One of my music professors once said “the arts are fleeting, transitory things.” How very true. As you said, I’ll never have quite the same story now, despite my best efforts to recreate it. C’est la vie.

  4. Losing your work is one of the toughest things to come up against. We had a break-in at home where the laptops went, and of course there were scenes in there (particularly Hope’s Daughter) that I have not backed up. When it came to re-writing them – which I knew I had to do to finish the story – I kept avoiding them as it dragged up other memories and kept making me angry/sad all over again for what had happened.

    Mine was a mixed experience – I think some parts became better for approaching them a second time; but there were two scenes (the epilogue and an earlier chapter piece) that I think suffered, because I’d been so happy with how they had come together the first time, the second attempt was flat and a bit of a chore. It’s true, you remember stuff and do your best, but if you are in a little creative bubble sometimes, where everything just slots in perfectly and if you have to go back to those moments of writing, I think they suffer by comparision. Needless to say I’m super organised with my backups and drafts after my experience.

    So glad you found your piece though Tony! 🙂

  5. This post seems to have struck a resonant frequency in all the writers here! I did get the story back, but I was so startled to realise how transitory it was, how much in her own bubble universe the character existed. I have a new respect for authors who manage to link all their stories together!

    The qiestion is…is writing a quantum event…once observed, forever changed? That’s a post for another day, I suspect 🙂

    It was bad enough to lose a story, but to lose a whole NOVEL or longer work-in-progress? Oh, man, that’s got to hurt. I could understand why Jilly Cooper couldn’t go back to it until years later.

    Thanks for all the comments and posts!

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