My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.I've been thinking a lot about that quote this week. You see, my computer hard drive died on me. I had backed up my work a few days earlier, so I didn't think I'd lost too much, but there were no guarantees. What could have felt like a disaster left me oddly dispassionate and philosophical.
Not having a computer for a week gave me a chance to come at my writing life from a different angle. I had fallen into the routine of sitting down in front of the computer, opening my existing work, rereading and then revising. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, and having a writing routine or habit can be good for you, but sometimes a routine can become a rut, and lately I've been feeling like my writing has been a bit lackluster. Maybe it's all the focus I've been putting on submitting and querying and trying to get published. Maybe it's the pieces I've been working on. Maybe it's the nature of revision over drafting. Maybe it's the intrusion of the rest of my life.
With my computer gone, I took a few steps back. I revisited some things in my iPad. I skimmed over old notebooks. I did a little mental writing, marinating of ideas, and reading. I felt relaxed, open minded, curious to play with projects. I've been afraid to follow that impulse, or even acknowledge that impulse, because I've been so anxious to finish existing projects and submit them. I've been afraid that if I take a break from the hard work of revising, or pushing through the muddled middle, on existing projects, I would be copping out. I've been viewing the "play" of writing as a distraction that would keep me from my professionally-oriented goals.
By the end of the week, the hard drive had been replaced and through the magic of Time Machine most of my work had been restored. So I fell back into that routine again. Open the laptop, open the document, begin re-reading. However, the universe wasn't done with me.
I realized I had, in fact, lost more revisions than I thought. I was seized with frustration. "I really liked those changes, and they were subtle stuff and I can't remember how I did it and I don't want to sit there massaging my way through it all over again!" So I went looking for my thumb drive, the repository of my back-up to the back-up, in hopes that it had the more recent draft. Lo and behold the thumb drive was MIA. (Still is, as of this writing.)
The Zen attitude that had prevailed in my psyche when everything might have been lost now gave way to a frenzied panic at the thought that some minute massaging of text was irretrievable gone. I ransacked of every nook and cranny, as if by finding the missing thumb drive I would find my missing writer's mojo. No thumb drive materialized.
At last, I stopped ransacking. A voice inside me kept saying "Step back. Step back. Step back." My rut has gotten me so locked to technology that I no longer seem to trust my own creative brain. I have begun to value the individual words, and the time spent massaging them, over the hard muscle work of creation, the daredevil plunge of discovery, the greater arc of story and character. Is this just the nature of the revision phase or is it a symptom of some larger paradigm shift I need to make?
My husband told me the story of a writer pre-computer-era whose housekeeper mistakenly used his manuscript to stoke the fire. Engulfed by flames at a time when there were no back-ups - a far more violent, visceral, and permanent fate. What did that writer do? Wrote it better.
Has my computer caused me to develop a disconnected relationship with my own stories and ideas, one in which they exist in some ephemeral and insubstantial ether instead of residing in the marrow of my own bones? Maybe it's time to step out of the digital world, print some hard copies, grab some pens and notebooks, and immerse myself in the old-fashioned, hand-cramp-inducing, physically present act of writing, brain directly wired to the instruments with the only glowing illumination being that emanating from within myself.