Something happened to me yesterday that hasn’t happened in a very long time.
I lost a file.
As regular listeners know, the next big story up is Winter Kill. The book has been simmering on the back burner of my brain for a couple of years now. Basically it’s about an FBI agent struggling to hang onto his floundering career who gets sent to the
Pacific Northwest to check out a possible serial
killing. And we all know how that goes.
My original outline was okay, but it turned out to be way too similar to another idea I had out on proposal. Or thought I had out on proposal. (That's a whole other story and a half.) So I reworked some things, did a bunch of research, and I rewrote the outline to my great satisfaction.
But then the story got pushed back a couple of months because of personal stuff including house hunting and so on and so forth.
Long story short, when I opened the Winter Kill file yesterday morning…no updated outline. According to the date on the existing outline word doc, I hadn’t touched the file since January 27th . The updates were three weeks ago.
I checked every freaking file and folder on my laptop. No. No. NO. No revised outline. If it still exists, I saved it under something so obscure, even I can’t find it. It’s lost. It’s gone girl, gone.
I did not take it well.
I took it very badly.
It’s pretty much the worst thing that can happen to a writer, barring the really big disasters like…stuff I don’t want to think about. Alzheimer’s. Some physical catastrophe that wrecks the brain and robs the mind of words and pictures. But on the normal scale of bad things that can happen to writers, it’s right up there with fried backup drives and stolen laptops.
And I was trying to think why. Why did it feel so disastrous? It was only a couple of pages. Maybe at most two thousand words. I thought it all up once, why can’t I just think it all up again? But as I opened the file and stared at that rough initial outline… It’s not just that all the new place and people names and initial cursory field work is gone. That’s tough, yes, but that can all be recreated.
But what can’t be recreated -- not ever, not exactly -- are the story and character details. Not that there were so many, but every word was the key to a line of thought, to images and ideas that were not written down. That didn’t have to be written down, because they existed in the shorthand of the outline.
It’s hard to explain what I mean. And I don’t want to get all woo woo about what is, after all, an intellectual endeavor.
Some of it will come back as I begin to rework my way through the research notes. But three weeks is a long time given that the ideas had barely crystallized. It’s not going to be the same.
That doesn’t mean I can’t write the book. I can. And for all I know, it’s going to be a better book. The second outline was better than the first, so maybe the third will be better than the second. But that outline -- the pleasure I felt in figuring out that particular version of the story -- losing it is an almost physical pain.
And that is the weird, weird thing about creativity. And why writing a work of fiction is not like putting together a marketing report.
***Updated 3-15 to say that I -- *blush* -- found the missing file. It turned out it I handwrote the new notes (which I very rarely do) and I left them in the notebook of projects still under consideration (which was the wrong place). So...false alarm. *cough* As you were!