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Monday, September 14, 2020

The Muse Wants What the Muse Wants (Three Things to Remember When Surviving Data Loss)

I guess Paul's muse didn't wear a leather corset.       
The Kiss of the Muse by Paul Cezanne 1860


[CN: My relationship with Art reads like a D/s relationship, so if that squicks you, skip this one. Or at LEAST bounce down past the italicized part.]


She was sitting astride me, leaned over with her face hovering over mine when I woke up, her fingers already woven through the hair at the back of my neck. As soon as my eyes fluttered open and I started to "Wha--", her fists clenched, and yanked me back into the pillow with a yelp.

"Oh good," she said, her smile growing just a little sinister. "You're awake."

"Yeah, do you think maybe- Ahhhhh!"

Her hands gripped tighter. "We never talk anymore. Let's chat, shall we." Her face was right over mine, but she leaned in even closer. "It's been a little rough these past few weeks. All that nanny work you've gotten up to."

I nodded with what little head motion I could muster.

"And this whole pandemic," she added. "Poor little you."

"Uh...." I didn't like where this was going.

Her head went down and her teeth found my earlobe. They slid over it, gently at first but with rising pressure.

Through clenched teeth holding my ear, she whispered. "I think it's time for me to remind you of all I do for you. But more importantly, it's time for you to show me that our love can overcome a little adversity."

My breathing was quick and jagged.

"It can, can't it?" She asked shifting her hips along mine.

"Yes...", I gasped. "Not that you're not totally overdoing this, but yes."

Her eyes narrowed.

"Good," she whispered as her hands clenching my hair relaxed. "Very good...."

This is one of those mornings where the chapter heading could be "But the Universe Had Other Ideas."

My MacBook has died. Dramatically. Suddenly. Thoroughly. 

Of course, I was being careful with some of my information, and less so with others. I lost some half-written articles, notes on many more. About a zillion pics and memes for the Facebook page. Some stuff will be in the Mac Cloud that I don't expect. Some is gone forever.

It's a pretty severe setback. 

But today I talk to you writer to writer. Because if I can't eke some folksy writer wisdom out of a personal tragedy, what are we even doing here?

1- Life will challenge the "sunk cost" fallacy of pursuing art. 

This isn't  new experience for writers. It's been happening since the wind blew a hand-written manuscript into the fire, or the only physical copy of something was lost in the move. Computers haven't helped that much. Data corrupts. Even saved files die. Personally, I've been through this half a dozen times in my 30 years writing with ever better technology every time (and it never gets any easier). The worst was a total purge of Dropbox (yes, I'm naming names). But even with clouds and triple redundant backups and USB thumb drives and everything else, you're probably going to lose some stuff.

And if the only reason you're writing is because you have put so much into it, that's going to be a really rough moment. You're going to want to quit, and if the only reason you were slogging on is because you'd come so far, it's going to be a pretty GOOD moment to be spectacularly self-honest. 

I'm not saying you SHOULD quit. I'm just saying that you're being leaned over one heck of a psychic volcano. 

It's normal to be upset. To flip a table. To abandon a project. Maybe even to give up for a while. But what happens then will be the most interesting part. Did you write because you had all this effort sunk into it? Or did you write because not writing was terrible or because that story was desperate to get out?

Have the reasons you write been obliterated, lost in some pixel (or ink) graveyard? Or will you come back to the page for the same reason you did before?


2-Just know it's coming and prepare for it.  

You will eventually lose your work. You will. It is going to happen. Just be ready for it and prepare for it.

If you don't believe me.... If you think you can be careful enough.... Check with any other working writer ever. One of the worst ones I remember: a friend went through a power surge that killed every autosave, leaving only the last dedicated save.....three months prior. (And that was three months of high-octane writing too.) When I saved all my shit to three USBs and Dropbox, I thought I was untouchable. Guess who discovered that he couldn't find two of those USBs and one was corrupted when all his work disappeared from Dropbox? 

I probably got too careless about some of those articles, and like a farmer with the cow, I'm going to be a lot better at it for a while. But what I didn't do was forget that certain LARGE files needed to be backed up in the cloud. That's why this is going to be intensely inconvenient for me rather than utterly tragic. 

So just keep a couple of redundancies and know it's going to happen. I don't save to six places every time I work, but periodically I update a Google doc......just in case. And I spend the six dollars a month to have an Apple cloud. If I lose data like today, I'm out a week or two of notes and maybe a mostly written article or three and the last few days on my manuscript rather than months or years of work.


2b- Just know it's coming and prepare for it. Money version.

You should also know your hardware won't last forever. Especially if you're using Apple--which I love like the cliche writer I am, but the engineered obsolescence is no GD joke. Some of their shit basically celebrates its third birthday by breaking. (My Pro had already had a battery changed and was falling apart at the hinge.)

Writers don't spend $100-$200 a month on art supplies or driving around to auditions, but we should still work the cost of our art into our budgets as much as is possible. Instead, we have to come up with $1500 or so once every couple of years and pass it all at once like a kidney stone. If you're not planning for that to be an expense, it can be rough. (It's quite analogous to our taxes since we don't have employers. We always owe, and it's always a lot, so if we're not saving, it's going to hurt like a root canal.) I know a lot of writers don't HAVE an extra hundred or two a month, so it's even more important to sock away a bit here and there when we do.

Economically, I was ready for this. I don't make a lot of money, but I can stretch a budget. I just assume my heavy use of whatever writing laptop I use means that I'll be buying a new one every threeish years, and I drop some money into a dedicated savings account. I have access to other ways to blog in a pinch (like today), but basically I can't go long term without it, so I just make sure it's a priority. 

If you're curious, I'm probably going to get a MacAir instead of a Pro. I don't do video editing or anything and I don't use my writing computer for games (unless it's Bardbarian uploaded so the smol will have something to do). All the reasons I had the more powerful computer are no longer apropos. I stream things on a donated flatscreen through my Playstation now. So a MacAir will probably do the job nicely. 


3- Take heart.

This has got to rank among the most frustrating experiences for writers. Even rejection feels different and has a kind of death-by-a-thousand-cuts feel that one strong wallop of data loss doesn't often achieve. And you have every reason to be frustrated. To perhaps even sulk in bed over ice cream and abandon your daily writing for a week.

But there are things no data loss can take away. You practiced and improved your craft. You improved your ability as a wordsmith. You learned how to sit down and put in the effort until you had something you would lament losing. None of those things can be lost. You will remember more about the things you lost than you think you will if you decide to rewrite them. You may even find whole sentences are still rolling around in your head, but certainly most of the beats are probably still there as soon as you start working.

Perhaps most importantly of all, while you might feel that you really nailed it with a paragraph or three, and you can't seem to get that particular magic back, one thing you will notice is that, for the most part, your rewrite will feel better. (It's the same reason you really ought to completely rewrite a first-to-second draft instead of just going into the old file and trying to revise.) You will have an easier time abandoning things that weren't working or trying completely new approaches, and for the most part, you're going to find your finished post-data-loss-product is better for it. 

I won't go so far as to say this might be the best thing that ever happened, but it's probably not as bad as it feels. Take a moment. Breathe deep. And if you were going to keep writing anyway, hopefully you took some precautions that make this not the worst thing that has ever happened.


If you would like to help me pay for a new writing laptop (or technically help me get started on the saving fund for the NEXT one), a one-time donation through PayPal is always most appreciated, particularly in these difficult financial times. And, of course, I will always be most appreciative of even small ongoing contributions through Patreon as they allow me to budget.

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