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The Tale Up-to-Date

February 3, 2010

I’ve been telling the story of how my novel-in-progress, such as it is, came to be: how I was inpsired by first reading the novels of Lloyd Alexander, and how my skills improved over time, and I continued to write.  But into every good story must enter some struggle.

As I recounted last time, I had been writing a new draft of my novel throughout my college years, and into the first years of my post-collegiate career.  The highest numbered chapter I wrote in this draft was the 28th.  It was just about as far into the story as my first version ever got – roughly two-thirds.  At the same time as all this, I’d been working on and developing my background material.  Some time in college, I started keeping my “Idea Journal”, which I titled The Book of Ideas, in a mostly unused notebook.  The first filled up rapidly with ideas – mostly touching on my book – and I quickly started working on a second.  Not long after I started my first job after college, I was looking for ways to transfer this idea book into an easily searchable digital format.  I’ve mentioned this before, but after struggling with typing those notes up in Word, I later tried the program wikidpad (which is open source).  I also began writing a semi-poetic telling of the ancient history of the world the story occupied.

At that point, I experienced a significant one-two punch that put a setback in my work that has lasted a long time.  I kept all of my work on an external, USB hard drive because the hard drive in my desktop was too small for the volume of material I had collected (including music and inspirational art).  It so happened that I also used my hard drive to store a lot of music to use for a Church dance that I was helping to organize – which I took with me to the event.  After the dance was over, I took my hard drive with me and in the parking lot, it slipped out of my hands.  It didn’t shatter, and it wasn’t until a few days later that I experienced the true nature of the problem: the drive heads had physically crashed into the driver plates.  Some of the data was destroyed.  But my work was everything to me.  I took the drive in to a local computer-fix shop, and they retrieved some 80% of the data on the drive.  Sadly, some of the chapters in my book were not included.  My latest chapter, the 28th, was among those – and that chapter was the one chapter that I had not yet printed out in hard copy.

The second setback came about six months later.  I had moved to Atlanta, I had copied most of the information from my idea notebooks into my sister’s laptop (which I was borrowing).  And I had recovered most of the chapters in my book.  I’d been taking the laptop to work with me on certain days of the week (I went straight from work to a Church function on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, I can’t recall which day, and I usually had free time to work once I got there).  On this particular day, I’d left the laptop in the car, along with my completely filled notebook of ideas.

I got a call in mid afternoon – I was told by the parking deck security that some belongings of mine had been found: a bag holding a book of scriptures (and, coincidentally, my name and contact information) and a bag with a change of clothes (so I’d be appropriately dressed for the Church activity).  Horrified, I left work and rushed to the parking deck.  It was indeed my bag of scriptures and my change of clothes.  But my car window had been smashed in, and the laptop – along with my notebook of ideas – were gone.  With it, the majority of the work that had survived the harddrive crash.  I was devastated.

It was a long time before I started writing again.  But the true spirit of a writer  remains undaunted in the face of every challenge.  I still had the disk with the recovered contents from the crashed drive and reams of other handwritten notes, maps, and hard copies of the old draft of my book.  More importantly, I still had my heart and my mind.  At last, I resolved to start again: this time, from scratch.  I questioned everything, rethought everything.  The name of the main character, for instance, was just an anagram for the name of one of Lloyd Alexander’s characters.  What sense was there in that?  Did the geography of the world the story takes place in make sense?  What about the history of the world?  Who are my characters, really?  Are they people readers – other real people – will care about?  And my plot.  Was anything in it unique?  Any part of it new?  Anything that’s not trite and clichéd?

I  started a new book of ideas, and I switched to using ConnectedText to record my notes and create an interlinked encyclopedia of all my knowledge about my story and my world.  And I decided to start writing some short stories again, to refine my craft and keep my edge sharp.  I was almost on a roll.

And then I got accepted into Grad School.  And I got married.  Both very happy events for me.  But they seriously changed the paradigm of my life, and where the focus has had to be.  Those two events, which happened within a fairly short time together, have significantly altered how I spend my time, and what my priorities are.

But that pretty much brings you up to speed.  I’m still working on background details – in those five-minute cracks between things of greater import – and still working on a short story.  But I won’t start writing a new draft until I’m confident I’ve figured out all the details (or enough of them) about the background and characters and the direction of the plot.  Honestly, I have a long way to go.

Happy writing. 

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