• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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If Words Could Make Wishes Come True

This post arrives late because I lost the editing on a piece I’d been working on all day. If I could have smashed my head through the monitor to retrieve it I would have. It’s not just the time, it’s that first best energy when you approach a piece of writing. As anyone who has lost work will likely attest, you can recall about 70% of the lost work without much trouble. It’s that other 30% that takes the form of a ghoul and torments you as you stare at a passage for so long you can no longer understand its meaning. The ability to place commas leaves you. And that perfect word you had supplied is just beyond your grasp. Now, four drafts later, I feel the original work has been restored, may be even improved. Would that I were a groom.

Have you ever lost work?

52 Responses

  1. I have a red hardcover book filled with poems I wrote. I have no idea where it is. Sure to be worth a fortune some day.

  2. Once, a famous writer and her lover from Chicago came to visit in California. In preparation, I took all the paper trash to my office (a remote cabin) to burn in the woodstove. We had a wonderful vinous evening with this public intellectual/writer and her partner, and in the morning took a walk around our property. My writing studio had caught fire in the night. I could see from a distance how the windows had gone black. Of course I had my laptop, my hard drive – it was hard to know exactly what I’d lost. Archival stuff, handwritten stuff, edited stuff, embarrassing stuff, essential stuff, prima materia, evidence. I had always saved everything – all of it charred, damaged, smoky and not quite ruined. The famous writer entered the smoldering den and we experienced the surprise together. “So you’ve lost all your early work,” she said. “Do you care?”

    A year or so later I published my first book.

  3. My husband set me up with something called Dropbox so I don’t lose work, but I still subscribe to “save early, save often”. Saving for me, is like a tick or like breathing. I often save despite not have made any changes. I reassures me, and makes me feel like I haven’t been staring at the page for the last hour while it blurs in front of me.

  4. I have lost work and it can drive you crazy – I’ve had the exact same experiences you describe

  5. Yeah, a whole chapter of an early book. I nearly wept, thought I’d lost such gems.

    I don’t think so, really.

  6. Yes, sigh. Years ago I lost the first half of my honours thesis and there was no way around rewriting the whole thing. I still feel the sting of that loss.

  7. Yes 80 pages of my first novel….. Now backing up is a religion

  8. On the back of my ipad are three lines of engraving, all writing related.
    The second line says Perfect Mistake.
    Perfect mistakes are things like losing your work and having the rewrite turn out much better.
    It always does. Always.

  9. Yes. In fact, I was trying to track down a lost photo just before I read your post.

  10. I call it The Great Computer Crash of 2011. It was a fall evening. I watched a virus eat up my computer, eat up all that work, powerless to do anything but stare in horror. My saving method had been to send chapters to myself on email, but I wasn’t super diligent about it. I shut it off, closed up the laptop and put it under the table, afraid to touch it until weeks later when I could deal with it. The computer guy said nothing could be retrieved.

    • I had the same type of thing happen — nothing but gibberish and hierogyphics appearing on a black screen, only identifiable words were “failed to reboot” or something like that. Same diagnosis from 2 computer guys. It was awful — not only did I lose poems, stories and random thoughts, but a whole bunch of old family photos my wife had stored and some baby photos as well. I had printed a hardcopy of my since abandoned novel (unedited form) and now keep everything on a flashdrive, or at least hope I do.

  11. I lost two poems from college that absence has made genius. For some reason, i’m angry at my Dad for this—he’s kept everything I’ve ever written, including some stuff I which he’d burn, but those verses? Nope. I’m not even sure I ever gave them to him, but it can’t be my fault.

    And once (or twice) I saved an old file over a new one—oh, god, the pain.

    And then there was the time I almost washed my flash drive—let’s hear it for front loaders and time-delay soap—and I thought I’d lost a week’s work, as my back-ups tanked (no pun intended) the day before . . . but it was all retrieved and now I have multiple Industrial Paranoid Strength back-ups and always tag old files with version numbers instead of deleting or saving over them.

  12. I have an old laptop I used to write on before I splurged on my little macbook. A great little workhorse with no internet. I hammered out a first draft on it and bits and pieces of other things – who knows what gems, right? It was gathering dust for about a year when, without asking me, my guy deleted everything so he could do photo-shop stuff. He thought I had saved everything on discs and flash drives. I never yell, but I yelled. I’ve forgiven him (mostly) – but it still hurts to think about.

  13. Sometimes I think it would be a relief to lose everything.

    • I had a writing teacher who told all of us in his beginners class to go home and throw away everything we had ever written. He said it would just hold us back, and he told us if we could write, we wouldn’t be in that class anyway. He told us we would never lose what was essential to our work. And he told us our ability to throw work away would be directly linked to our ability to fashion strong work.

      I believed him then and I still do. I threw away (almost) everything I had ever written. Some of it I still miss for sentimental reasons, but not often and not much.

      Losing work isn’t the same as throwing it away. I’ve lost work and it never feels good, but being able to throw work away and believing that one will always retain that which is essential can help when work is lost.

  14. I’m so sorry, Betsy. I know how much that sucks. I agree with Harry, though. We used to teach our Kindergartners to celebrate their mistakes. It’s an excruciating lesson to learn but once you get it, it really does make things better. Watching a person letting go is one of the most beautiful things in the world. And, of course, I’m that asshole who thinks things like this happen for reasons, like that one word you thought was perfect was actually the very worst word you could have chosen. That being said, screaming “Fuuuuuuucccckkkkkkk!!!!” seems to help just as well, too. When you’re in a pinch, it all boils down to coping mechanisms.

  15. I was in high school and stayed up to finish a play that my teacher had allowed me to write instead of the comparison paper (how stupid were those things) because she needed one for her magazine. It was three in the morning, I had just finished and was going back to remove a few scenes to get the length right for the school’s magazine.
    I stretched out and my foot hit the big, fat cord loose from the power strip, and the Commodore 64 went black. Devastated, I woke my Dad who said there was nothing to be done, why hadn’t I saved it yet.
    I stayed up the rest of the night and rewrote the whole thing. I thought it was brilliant, but I think the world would have been a better place if I wasn’t so determined to write that horrible play a second time.

  16. “Have you ever lost work?”

    Yes. But after I’m dead, I won’t care. And even now, I care very little.

    It is a joy to be so careless.

    • I lose work constantly, it’s almost a weekly occurrence. I only care about the draft of my current WIP, which I back up nightly on a flash drive. The rest of it I leave behind like cicada shells–ugly, shriveled bits of writing on post-it notes and napkins and torn-out sheets of notebook paper.

      I’d say it was a joy to be so careless, but sometimes I do get to a place in my draft and think, I could have sworn I wrote this scene. . . .

  17. A few years ago, I sent my friend a journal. The next time she sent a box to me, she included the journal, in which she had written me a letter. And so it has gone, back and forth. For just a few moments one day last week, I thought that it had come to an end …. that I had lost the journal. That’s what happens, I guess, when your “cubbyholes” are so full of paperwork you can’t see a danged thing.

    I haven’t lost any real work because I haven’t created any to lose. Several “You’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me” moments when a post has disappeared. One discovery of a manila folder labeled “Very Important Things To Do.” (Notable because it had been gathering dust for a year in my old desk.) One computer crash that wiped out all of my past-due Outlook tasks. (Notable because I couldn’t remember what any of them were and it didn’t seem to matter. Second prompt for reconsideration of my assessment of “Very Important.”)

    Tagging old files with version numbers. I’ll have to remember that. Just in case. šŸ˜‰

  18. Yes. It’s a horrible feeling

  19. My father threw all my highschool/college sketchbooks on a fire. I recorded everything in visual art after some of my written pages were discovered. An art teacher had periodically reviewed them and had written (mostly) praise throughout. A drop of confidence in the ocean of self doubt. Gone.

  20. I have lost a risque novella I wrote last year. I’ll start a rewrite in a few days but I can’t imagine it will be as exciting the second time around.

  21. Back in the 90’s I had everything I’d ever written on 5 inch floppy disks. Then I moved and was going to drive across Death Valley and Arizona in an un-airconditioned station wagon. I imagined those floppy disk things would warp so it seemed like a good plan to put them in the cooler with my cheese sandwiches and lots of ice. When I got to the motel that night, the cooler was filled with 8 inches of water and everything was floating. I propped up the disks all around the motel room, hoping they’d dry, but they never worked again. The sandwiches were a loss, too.

    I still have those disks somewhere. One day technology will advance to the point that I’ll be able to rescue my juvenilia. But I think it’s gone for a reason.

  22. Years ago I lost twelve pages of a piece on a deadline. I cried, rewrote, but never forgot the feeling of being punched in the stomach by my own stupidity.
    Now, I KILL TREES. Everything finished, or near finished, I make a hard copy. It may be a bitch to retype my two novels and God knows how many of my columns but they are there if needed. I also back up on zip-drives. If my house burns down Iā€™m screwed.

    • Steven Pressfield (War of Art) used to back up his work to disk (back in the day; I bet it’s flash drives now) and puts it in the glove box of his truck in case fire drives him from his home. Google Docs can store your work in the ether, allowing access to previous versions without requiring the writer to remember to back up. If I lived in a place bigger than 500 sf, I’d probably print everything out too, so I don’t recommend stopping that, unless you really love trees. Burn, baby, burn.

  23. Not only yes, but hell yes. Books’ worth, lost. Poof. Gone. I wrote on Wordperfect which was then converted to Word and then something magical happened. My computer died. Not to worry, I had put everything on a flash drive as a backup! Smart me. But when I tried to bring it up on a new computer. . . gobbly-gook. Never was able to ressurect any of it. I’m talking several fulls. I’m talking multiple partials. I back up all over the place now.

  24. In the levee failures after Hurricane Katrina, I lost 2 archival hard-drives of files, 20+ years of “day job” portfolio photos and samples of design work, most of my sewing and craft supplies, books, furniture I had restored and a photo album from my childhood, along with all the “other stuff” that doesn’t survive immersion in 7 feet of water. Friends drown, friends died from the stress after the waters receded and friends lost their inner spark from the effort of trying to recover. Loss and I are on a first name basis.

    Six & a half years later, I often feel that my life before 2005 belonged to someone else. Every day I focus on the gift I was given to start anew, with less stuff and better priorities, determined to see that loss isn’t always so bad: often it leads to something unexpectedly Just Right.

    • Karen,
      So beautiful, after so much loss that you can “start anew, with less stuff and better priorities”. Beautiful.

      • Thank you, Lyra! and one of those better priorities is attending as many Mardi Gras parades as possible: I’ve been to nine so far this season, have about 30 lbs of beads and trinkets and plenty of ‘observed inspiration’ for future plots, characters and dialog. Looking forward to spending most of tomorrow in the Quarter with friends (until the tourists get too drunk to make that enjoyable…).

        Happy Mardi Gras to everyone!!

    • Some people would give everything for the chance to start anew. It’s not a small thing, a fresh start. You didn’t have a choice, but it’s wonderful that you see that you were given something along with what was taken away.

  25. That’s the shits Betsy. Sorry to hear it. I mostly lose work by saving an old file over a new one, which always makes me feel so so smaht.

    Yesterday I lost a entire day’s work of making Osso Bucco. I had people coming for dinner at six, and at five realized it had become soup. Off to Safeway I went and ended up with the toughest f-ing pork chops in town. Should have served the soup.

  26. I have lost work and I felt that same lump in my stomach when you described the moment of realization.

  27. I’ve lost work, and, I once had work stolen–about 20 hours of tape I’d made, thinking it would be a fun creative project to make a short movie instead of spending all my time writing. Queen of rationalization, czarina of the silver lining, I told myself it was a GOOD thing all that lovingly creative tape was stolen; I should be spending my time writing, after all.

  28. It’s a rite of passage. You’re not really a writer until your best work has disappeared into the ether of lost words. Somewhere there is a planet where all of our most brilliant bits are cavorting and drinking martinis.

  29. Yes. And doing it over makes it turn out better.

  30. What’s worse is when you spend way too much time online in a “discussion” with some bozo, crafting a comment you are sure will annihilate his idiocy with your wit, profundity, and virtuosity of logic and language, only to have the interwebs annihilate it immediately upon clicking Send. A double waste. Always draft in a text program, not a comment box.

    I’ve never lost any real work, but I kick myself occasionally when I recall how, in true cult-follower fashion, I threw away a few of my earlier journals after I moved into the ashram, along with some really bitchin’ clothes. I thought I’d be wearing saris forever (I avoid them whenever possible now), and I never dreamed I’d want to write a memoir. Fortunately, the more I write about the past, the better my memory gets. It was all a mirage anyway, and that’s how I’m writing it.

    And for all of you who worry about your house (and all your work) lost to fire (or flood), I give you two words: Google Docs. That way, you only have to worry about terrorists (or the Apocalypse) bringing the whole shebang down. And then nobody’s getting published, so who cares?

    • Two more things:

      1. For the record, I acknowledge that I am just as much a bozo for getting contentious with strangers online. I’ve cut way down.

      2. I’ve often thought of leaving something I’ve written in a public place for someone to find. Anonymously, of course. I imagine it’s akin to the feeling a flasher might have. Or weirder. Anybody reading ever done something like that?

      • One summer night when we were just out of high school, my drinking buddy Don and I drank a tall pitcher of something deeper than we were and then went around writing our names and numbers on the walls of the stalls in various ladies’ rooms in our home town. You know–“For a good time”, etc. We did not get one single call. Can you believe that?

        And somehow, I think this is not the kind of “public writing left behind” you were referring to.

      • Oh, and did I say, “what’s worse?” No, it’s not worse than losing actual work. What’s worse is the double waste of time, both in the writing of what’s inconsequential, and in the losing of it.

      • I have not, but a friend & I once found a tiny journal full of sketches and odd verses at an outside cafe. No one claimed it and my friend was quite smitten with the idea it was left for her to find. She does not ‘color outside the lines’ often and I think it gives her much to consider: about how a stranger trusted their art to find its own way in the world. My advice: do it and write about it.

  31. i didn’t speak to my mother for four months last year until she finally telephoned on the house phone to say she was sorry. Since I wasn’t picking up her calls, I got the apology on the answering machine in the kitchen. I saved that message for three months, re-playing it to my sister and friends and myself as proof of my victory.

    And then one day my husband noticed that there was an old message on the answering machine and he erased it (without listening to it, not that it would have made a difference to him — he likes my mom…but then, he’s not her kid).

    I worked hard for that apology so I’m counting it as lost work.

    As for writing-type work, I haven’t lost any but that’s because I take the precaution of stashing my hand-lettered manuscripts in the car whenever I go away for a day, in case the house implodes Nightly, I pack my papers in a suitcase and set it by the front door so it’s close at hand in case I need to evacuate the house in a hurry.

  32. Every few days, I save my work to a new document (i.e., save as). That way, if I zaap something, I may usually go back to the previous document to reclaim it. I realize this woudn’t help in every instance, but so far it’s worked for me.



  33. Yes and I go through the same stage as well, beginning with I could pull my hair out (what little I have left) to this might turn out better.

    Good luck with your editing.


  34. I had my bag stolen a couple of years ago with my laptop AND my USB backups inside. I’d thought to back up against computer failure, but not against theft. I lost 40,000 words of the novel I was working on and I was so crushed I never went back to it again.

    Now I’m pretty obsessive about backing up, I have my Writing folder on 5 different USBs which are scattered around in my house, my bag and my locker at work. I have my whole computer backed up onto hard drive and I also have everything important auto-backing up to an online server. I hope I have all my bases covered!

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  36. Damn those TB drives.
    Several years ago I lost my first draft of my memoir. I had hard copy, but 500 pages on scraps of paper is not the best way to save your work.
    I worked months transcribing those dusty pieces of trash. I vowed I would backup everything onto an old machine I had in the basement.
    I bought a 1.0 Tb drive (when they cost $300) and networked my desk machine to the drive. For the last 8 years, everything I save goes to the Tb drive via MEMEO.
    Last week I accidentally deleted a file I had working on, what, 3 years ago?… Ha ha I have it on backup… I thought.
    Yes, it’s out there. But where. Try to look through 8 years of junk you’ve named with those cute little comments at the time.
    It took me two days to find it… but I found it… this time.

  37. Recently spilled coffee on my laptop and erased every open document. You are right about the irretrievable 30%.

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