Monday, April 5, 2010

Lost or Destroyed Manuscripts

“Before the invention of Xerox, I’d have a copy made of my manuscript and put it in someone else’s house, on the assumption that two wouldn’t likely burn down at once.” Irving Wallace from Ocala Star-Banner, 9/23/1982

My biggest fear as an author is to lose changes to a WIP or discover the only copy of my manuscript had been destroyed. I think it’s a holdover from the days before I got smart and learned to back up my backups. I also now subscribe to an online data backup service. I had some scares and have had a few instances of losing some of my work but never an entire manuscript.

An article in the April Grandeur Magazine reminded me that other authors, prior to the age of the computer, have not been so lucky. The article was about Edna St. Vincent Millay during her stay on Sanibel in 1936. While she walked on the beach with her husband, the hotel they had been staying in burst into flames due to a kerosene heater. It was first reported that she had perished in the flames, but fortunately she survived. However, the only copy of her manuscript did not. The article goes on to say,

“The woman who wrote, ‘There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, no matter where it’s going,’ is presumed to have then gotten as far away from the scene of bad luck as possible.”

I can’t blame her.

Even though there are times I find myself cursing my computer, I can’t imagine life without it, especially after reading about some other horror stories.

John Stuart Mills had to inform Thomas Carlyle that his manuscript, The History of the French Revolution, had accidently been thrown into the fire by a housemaid.

Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man, was well into his second novel when a fire destroyed his house. He lamented that he didn’t have a carbon copy. After the experience he bought a copier and fireproof files.

Ray Bradbury had twenty short stories stolen when someone broke into his aunt’s car. “They were after the briefcase, not my stories. But eventually I said, “The hell with it, I’ll do them over. If you can’t remember the idea it isn’t much of a story.”

Len Deighton once lost a manuscript in the mail between Ireland and England. “It was a terrible blow,” he said, “because all I had was a copy of a much earlier draft. I had to go back and try to remember, something that’s like running up and down on an escalator. Afterward he would show up at a shoe factory at the Irish village where he lived and the management would bring the factory to a halt while the author ran off a copy of his manuscript on the duplicating machine.

Many years ago William Buckley arrived in Peru with half of the completed manuscript of Cruising Speed in his briefcase. He was on an unofficial mission so when he noticed the briefcase missing, he let the ambassador think it contained the latest CIA plot to overthrow Allende. Soon everyone was looking for it and the briefcase, complete with manuscript was eventually found in the middle of the airport. He’s one of the lucky ones.

Have you ever lost part or all of a manuscript? How do you protect your work?

Be sure to visit next Monday when Alan Orloff, author of the recently released Diamonds for the Dead, will be my guest blogger. Though we haven’t decided on a topic, I can assure you that whatever Alan writes about will be fun and interesting. To find out more about Alan, visit his blog, A Million Blogging Monkeys, and website.

And if you are in the Naples, Florida area on Saturday, April 10, I hope you’ll visit the Authors and Book Festival sponsored by the Naples Press Club. I’ll be signing copies of The Ride at It’s All About Me on 5th Avenue between 3 and 6pm. You can find a full list of participating merchants and authors here.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Irving Wallace, Edna Millay, Len Deighton, Bradbury, Alan Orloff, Naples Press Club,


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I lost an hour and a half's worth of revisions just 2 days ago. :( Fortunately, I was able to recreate them. It was JUST an hour and a half, but boy--it took a while to get it back....

Mystery Writing is Murder

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Oh, and I tweeted this post...a good reminder to all of us!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Joanne said...

I lost a hard drive a couple of times. Thankfully my manuscript had been saved elsewhere, but it was a very scary feeling to think how easily many, many hours and days worth of work could just vanish!

Alan Orloff said...

Luckily, I've only lost a few pages, and it only happened once. I try to back up stuff (in triplicate), but every so often I forget, and then I get totally panicked that something will go missing until I get it backed up again.

Looking forward to my guest blog visit next Monday!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I have been fortunate! Like you, I am paranoid, and back up everything. My manuscripts are placed on an external hard drive, another computer, two CDRoms (one of which goes to my husband's office), and I print a copy. I save after every paragraph, so at the worst, I've lost a few lines once or twice.

Tamika: said...

How painful. Losing my work would be devasting. Some days I have to pluck the words out so I can't imagine having to recreate it all over again.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Interesting to take a little peek back into writer history, before the days of computers, back ups, copiers, and all the other great tools we have at our fingertips. When I finish a revision, I email it to myself. That way if something were to happen to my laptop, I could access it from any computer anywhere.

Karen Walker said...

I haven't lost anything yet, but I worry about it. I'm not as conscientious about backing up as I should be. Maybe now I will.

Laura S. said...

I've never lost a story or ms, but I lost a long article I wrote for a reviewing class in college. For some reason I didn't save it, which is very unlike me. I was able to rewrite it, but it wasn't fun spending double the time writing something over again.

I have two flashdrives and an external hard drive and I email my story to myself. It's worth it to be paranoid for my stories!

Arlee Bird said...

When did you start writing in the horror genre? These are absolute writers' nightmares. When I was first getting used to word programs, there were several times when, before I understood about saving, I totally lost something I had written. I think I've kind of got it down now. I still lose blogger comments sometimes, but I've even gotten better at that.

Hart Johnson said...

I'm with you--losing revisions is HORRIBLE. I've lost portions when... say the power failed and I hadn't save for a while, but I hand write first, so the first draft is just an annoying time thing to replace. EDITS you have to think and remember, and of course you're POSITIVE you were brilliant with the changes you've made... I've been emailing things to myself in addition to my thumb drive back up, so there is a copy online and one here or there... (LOVE the William Buckley story! *snicker*)

Elspeth Futcher said...

This is my nightmare. I email my manuscript to myself every time I hit a certain amount of words. Stories about losing work make me shudder. Part of my brain tells me I'd probably write it better if I had to do parts of it again (oh, the endless editing I do), but the thought of recreating the entire beast is horrifying.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Yes, Jane, how did "they" do it in the age before computers (ABC--cool acronym, huh?). You wonder what some of the classics would look like today if say, Shakespeare or Twain had a computer--or, their editors didn't. Not so easy to change happy to glad, "just because" when you have to rewrite six pages to do it.

Nice post, Kiddo! Best, Galen.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

That’s awful, Elizabeth. I’m glad you were able to recreate the revisions. Thanks for the tweet.

Joanne, it is a scary feeling. Hmmm…maybe there’s a plot here - author loses manuscript, goes crazy trying to recreate…

Alan, you learn quick as you only let it happen one time! I’m looking forward to hosting you next Monday.

Diane, saving after every paragraph is a great habit to get into. I’m going to see if I can remember to make myself do it.

I know what you mean, Tamika. Thinking up the right words the first time is hard enough without having to recreate it.

Karen G, I like the idea of emailing the manuscript to yourself.

Karen Walker, I hope it never happens to you because it only takes losing a sentence or two to become paranoid.

Laura, I find it hard to recreate anything I’ve written, so doing an entire article would be very difficult. I’m always thinking I came up with better words or better sentence structure in the original, whether it’s true or not.

Arlee, I always wanted to write like Stephen King! I didn’t know you could lose Blogger comments. Now I have something else to worry about.

Watery Tart, a variety of backup options might be the best idea. I’d like to know a few more details more about the Buckley story – sounds like another idea for a plot.

Elsbeth and Carol, it sounds like lots of authors use that email trick and I bet those of us who don’t will now.

Galen, I wish I had come up with that ABC acronym! It would have made a perfect blog title. You bring up an interesting point about editing back in the days of yore. I might have to Google that, too. By the way, congratulations on the release of your book today!

Grammy said...

Hi, Jane,
I am new to your blog, but enjoyed what I have read today. I am not a writer, per se, but I do have a blog that I write in almost every day. I just write about my daily life (past and present) and family and friends can keep up with what we are doing. I would think that if one were a writer of books, he would make back-up on a flash drive a priority. I also think that I would do an idea outline and make copies of it. Just my thinking...maybe not good but one way to keep track.
Maybe someday I will write a book. I am only 76 so maybe there is still time in between all the other things I do.
Best regards to you,
A new fan, Ruby

Grammy said...

Oh, yes, an additional thought, have you ever heard the story of how when Sequoyah had invented the Cherokee alphabet, his only copy was thrown into a fire, and he had to do it all over again? That was real determination, was it not? I am so glad that we don't let distress keep us from accomplishing, aren't you?

Helen Ginger said...

I've lost work before. I had two hard drive crashes in one year. Man, it hurts to lose your work. I back up now. I have a portable drive that I back up onto.

Straight From Hel

Marvin D Wilson said...

Every writer's worst nightmare! I once had my laptop crash with 3 WIPS is various states of completion, and had not - like a fool - backed up to a flash drive or emailed them to myself as an attachment in like, over a month so volumes of writing was nearly lost forever. Fortunately my IT guy was able to extract the data files from my hard drive before wiping it clean and realoading all programs, so I was ok, albeit scared to death for a while.

And I learned my lesson. Always back up to at least two different places, and occasionally email your work to yourself so you can open it up while online and download it to a new word doc, hmm?

The Old Silly

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Yep, I've lost work. But I still haven't learnt my lesson. I still fail to back it up in a different location.

Anonymous said...

When I frist started the drat of my MS I was so concerned about losing something. I think I lost a few paragraphs once but was able to recreate everything.

I learned a long time ago to back up my stuff daily. I learned from other people's mistakes. I've seen grown adults cry like a baby because they lost hard work and were never able to retrieve it.

Stephen Tremp

Christina Rodriguez said...

Well, I've been thinking alot about "cloud computing" since it gives one the ability to save copies of their work on someone else's server (like GoogleDocs, Windows Mesh, etc.). If you accidentally lose your laptop, or destroy your home computer, your data is still accessible online.

I'm nervous about it, though, especially since Google burned me with their Google Books fiasco.

jdsanc said...

My meticulous husband is on me about this all the time. I don't listen. But then I hear one of these and my heart absolutely stops. Thanks for that, for all of us!!!

Patricia Stoltey said...

In the old days I would regularly forget to save frequently while working, but now I'm paranoid about it (because I lost hours of revisions a couple of times).

These days I save often, and back up again on a floppy or flash drive.

Natasha said...

That is such a tragedy, isn't it? I have often lost stuff when the computer crashed (very frustrating), but luckily, the loss has never been worse than that.

Two Tuesdays back, I thought of backing up my hard drive, but didn't. The next day, a virus got the computer. Didn't lose anything, but am not taking chances now.

~ Rayna

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world