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From the Dark Days to the Light at the End of the Tunnel Part 1

February 15, 2011

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while… it’s been sitting in the back of my head for several weeks.  It was actually this post I had in mind when I posted about the titles to my novel projects a couple weeks ago: I knew I was going to write a post updating my “novel history” series of posts from just over a year ago… and I was going to need more convenient names for my novel projects to keep the post straight.

The “Novel History” posts were a series of three posts I did in January/February last year (here, here, and here) that effectively told the story of how I first conceived of “Project SOA #1″, i.e. the novel that I’ve been writing since forever.  If you’re interested in the general history of that novel (and/or interested into some clues as to what that novel is, or was, about – in those older incarnations – I think those posts are an entertainingly written personal history that divulges all of that). 

But I wanted to write a little more about my “dark days” – the days when I did very little writing at all, and the personal disasters that precipitated that productivity decline – and my eventual arrival at a better place.

I mentioned the personal disasters in the third of those three “novel history” links.  What happened was this: five years ago, in the summer of 2006, I had already decided to make my exit from the smallish town where I then lived.  In those days I was also more active than I now am at Church (I’m still active, but I was single and not in school back then, so my free time was significantly greater than it is now), and I was one of the heads of the committee that planned events and activities for the young single adult members of my church.  The big conference of the summer of 2006 was to be my “last hurrah” as I was soon to retire from the business of organizing such activities.  We expected between fifty and a hundred-and-fifty young people from across our rural region to descend on our hub-of-a-small-town for fun, activities, mingling, and, of course, dancing.  Of course, we couldn’t charge much to attend our conference if we wanted to generate a large attendance, so we had to cut cost corners wherever we could.  One big cost target: the music.

Effectively, we couldn’t afford a professional DJ for two nights’ worth of dances.  So we drafted someone from our group who had some experience or interest spinning tunes, and I employed my own skills in “obtaining” music for the event.  I had a lot of music already in my collection – much of that obtained through legitimate means – but it’s hard for most people to dance to classical music, movie soundtracks, and various other nerdishly-inclined sounds.  I don’t and have never had an interest in Hip-Hop or R & B – but this was what was called for if we were to have an enjoyable dance (at least, sanitized hip-hop and R & B).  And I knew how to obtain the tunes in a budget-friendly manner, so I did. 

All of this got stored on a portable, USB hard drive that I had obtained to supplement the measly hard-drive on my old desktop that I had long-since outgrown. When I say “USB Hard drive”, I don’t mean a small, portable flash drive.  I mean a real hard drive, with disk plates and drive heads and everything.  If you haven’t already read my personal history, you can still probably see where this is going.

The conference was a smash-hit, with the biggest attendance we’d yet had to date, and I could retire with honor from my position as a committee leader (even if not through what was then the traditional mechanism of retirement: that of getting married and losing the “single” status) before my big move to the big city a few months later.  And as I and my friends and fellow committee members triumphantly left the site of that last night of dancing and fun, I with my hard drive in hand, my oldest character flaw kicked in…

You see, I’m clumsy.  I mean that in the most physical way.  I trip.  I drop things.  I bang myself and others unintentionally.  And more or less, that’s what happened.  I don’t remember what might have led to it, but somehow I dropped my hard drive.  The same hard drive on which was stored the only complete copy of my then-current draft of “Project SOA #1″. As well as all my typed-up notes. 

Now it didn’t look broken, and at first everything was fine.  For a few days I was able to use the hard drive without problem.  But then I started hearing a strange ticking sound whenever I tried to open a file, and I’d get a mysterious error.  I knew instantly what the problem was.

A local computer-repair shop was able to save my bacon (and most of my book) – but it cost me a very pretty penny.  The cost didn’t matter to me, then.  This was everything to me.  In the end, I only lost one or two chapters of my novel – the rest I either had in hard copy or the files had been successfully retrieved.  My notes I all had in hard copy.  It was a heavy price to pay, and I’d have to rewrite quite a bit, but I was going to be okay.  From there on, it was time to focus on preparing for my move. 

So, I didn’t write much while I packed, and I didn’t write much once I got to my destination and focused my efforts on finding employment while I planned my long-term goals (grad school, etc.)  But once I was employed again, I got in the groove of writing.  First up: retype up all my notes, since it’s a lot easier to search through notes stored electronically.  At least one day a week, immediately after work, I’d head to church for another round of young single activities (this time around, I didn’t have to plan them, but I still attended, which was the best way to meet people – especially, hopefully, that special someone).  Work, home (I rented a room at my sister’s house, temporarily), and church formed a geographically large triangle, such that it didn’t make sense for me to go home after work before heading to church.  On the flip side, once at church, I had a substantial amount of time to kill before the activities commenced.

So, my ever-gracious sister loaned me the use of her laptop (my old computer was a dinosaur of a desktop) to do some writing while I waited at church.  Things were going swimmingly.  I was getting a lot of work done.  But then another disaster struck, this one borne of another character flaw: naiveté. 

I was leaving my sister’s laptop, along with my notebook filled with ideas, a change of clothes, and a book of scriptures in my car at work.  But the big city isn’t like the small town.  It wasn’t long before my car was broken into.  Everything was stolen, but the thief didn’t care for the bag with my clothes and scriptures in it.  The bag with the laptop and notebook, however: well, at least the laptop he could pawn.  And the notebook?  He probably never even realized it was there. 

The laptop and notebook were never recovered.  And I almost didn’t.  This was emotionally devastating.  I’d only really lost my notebook (which had all my ideas) – the old draft of the book (which I’d already resolved to rewrite from scratch), or as much as I’d managed to save from the previous disaster, were all still safe at home.  But all my new ideas for the rewrite were gone.  More than that, though, this was an invasion of my privacy, a violation of my being.  This was in the early part of 2007.  And for a month I was in a pretty hard funk.  But I pulled myself out of it and a little over a month later started work on a new notebook of ideas – trying to recall as many of the thoughts I had recorded that I’d lost.  Two months after that I wrote the first draft of “PFTETD”.  (It was terrible.) 

Still, I was determined to break out of the writing funk these two events had put me in.  That is, until I met the wonderful lady who would become Dear Wife.  That was in the summer of 2007.  My writing productivity dropped like a rock after that.  I was too busy courting.  And then applying for Grad School.  And then getting married.  And then actually going to Grad School.  And then discovering that I’d soon become a father.  Between Summer 2007 and late 2009 I did very little writing if any at all – at least very little that wasn’t for school.  It was a whirlwind of a few years, a very exciting time for me.  But I needed something else… I needed to be writing.

And that’s when I started this blog, and that’s when I started massive revisions on “PFTETD”.   That’s when I started to get back in the groove of writing…

It wasn’t where I wanted to be, yet.  But it was something.  There was a light at the end of the tunnel…

[To be continued...]

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2011 4:21 pm

    What oddly fitting timing! I was just trying to help a friend recover data on her hard drive yesterday. She dropped her laptop, and the hard drive died. I couldn’t do anything to get it back.

    I’m completely paranoid of that happening, so I have 2 backups of my novel: one on USB, the other stored online, just in case the laptop dies, and I lose my USB too. I’m not above eventually getting a fireproof safe to store all my important data (paper and electronic). Hehe is that a bit much? I dunno, after working on it so long, I don’t want to lose it now.

    • February 15, 2011 4:35 pm

      It was expensive as all get out, but as long as the physical disks are intact, the data can be retrieved. I’m not sure precisely what techno-magic the people at the computer repair shop worked, but in theory you can mount the disks into a drive with fresh, non-crashed drive heads and read what’s on the disk. (Insofar as the drive heads on the old hard disk drive may have physically crashed into the disk plates, there may be some data lost, which is what happened to me; repeated attempts to open files on the drive after the heads had crashed bascially scratched the disk surface, rendering some data unreadable. Luckily most of the data was not so badly affected.) If your friend is willing to pay the price… she can get the data back.

      I didn’t have much of a back-up established, so I paid the price. But I think keeping everything backed up in triplicate ought to be sufficient. But a fireproof safe isn’t a bad idea, anyway. You might want to keep important documents someplace like that anyway – like tax documents, birth certificates, things like that. If you’re saving those, you might as well save your writing as well! *

      *Says the man who does not have a safe, neither for important official documents nor for his story files…

      • February 15, 2011 4:52 pm

        It is expensive. My friend was quoted 500-1000$ to open up the hard drive, without any guarantee of getting any data out of it. It was lucky you only lost a couple of chapters.

      • February 15, 2011 5:00 pm

        Well, I lost several, but I had some in hardcopy and one of the lost files was posted online, so those I was able to retrieve, so that in total I lost a lot fewer.

  2. February 15, 2011 9:51 pm

    Wow, great story! I like stuff like this. :)

    That is pretty devastating. Resolving to write a whole story all over again? Brave lad.

    And it makes sense that your writing productivity fell like a piano without a parachute when you met DW (Actually, that would be D-soon-to-be-W, lol). Sheesh, I mean that’s kinda a big thing to happen. But at the same time, you should’ve had all the MORE to write about. Glass half empty or half full?

    But now…I ramble. :)

    • February 16, 2011 9:02 am

      When you’ve lived with a story – when it’s been a part of you – for roughly two decades, you don’t let it go easily… no matter what setbacks come your way. But yes, meeting Dear Wife has given me a whole new world of experiences that I can pour into my writing that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. For a while I may not have written much, but it’s very good for my writing in the long run.

      • February 16, 2011 9:24 am

        Oh my, I can’t claim two decades of living with a story so easily…

      • February 16, 2011 9:39 am

        Maybe that’s longer to spend with one story than is healthy. It’s too late, now, though. I can’t take those years back and I wouldn’t if I could. Now there’s nothing for it but to keep on writing. :D

      • February 16, 2011 10:29 am

        Lol! :) That’s a nice thing when you have to do something. Like when there’s a zillion leftovers from a banquet. Or when the refrigerator dies and you have to do SOMETHING with all that food before it goes to waste. Or when a bakery closes for the day and has to get rid of all its leftover pastries. (No, I’m not a foodie, can you tell? :))

  3. February 19, 2011 10:58 pm

    Losing stories to theft or hard drive failure are nightmares.

    I think most people must have stories like these. In my case, I naively left to Tennessee thinking I was done with my dissertation and I’d already gotten a Professor job; but my adviser thought I needed to rewrite it entirely. Meanwhile, the grad student who inherited my desk & office computer (where all my files were stored for the dissertation) decided to upgrade Linux. Due to my concerns he installed on a separate disk — EXCEPT it turned out he made a mistake and formatted the disk with my data & dissertation. I got amazingly lucky because it was a CS dept. and he learned how to read raw data off the disk and recovered most of my lost files.

    • February 21, 2011 9:31 am

      Wow. An entire doctoral dissertation almost lost? THAT would have been nerve-wracking. With my book, it was only my own personal self-fulfillment that was potentially on the line. With a dissertation, that could have been your career and your future down the toilette. I’m glad they were able to read the disk. Thank goodness for geeks!

Trackbacks

  1. From the Dark Days to the Light at the End of the Tunnel Part 2 « The Undiscovered Author
  2. Missed One « The Undiscovered Author

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