The Heartbreak of Writing

The Jolly Roger from Peter Pan
Captain Hook’s ship, the Jolly Roger

Writing has plenty of heartbreak, and plenty of hazards. You may be speed-reading a text for research, then slam into a bookmark and go flying across the room. You may find that you’ve written yourself into a corner with your characters planning to do one thing, and you planning on them doing something else. You may end up in love with your main character, Pygmalion-style, and not know what to do with yourself.

Or, if you’re like me, you might suddenly lose two months’ worth of work on your novel.

For years now, I’ve been using a type of version control software called Subversion (usually meant to track software source code) to save backups of all of my desktop files, from stories to novels to homework, on my main Linux desktop as well as on my Windows laptop and my Dropbox account (I used to store a repository on my hosting company’s server too, but for some reason I stopped). This setup has served me very well for most of that time.

Until now.

Last night, I launched Scrivener and put in a few words on And the Devil Will Drag You Under for the first time in a couple of weeks (I’ve been busy with work and school), and then went to save my work. Then I used TortoiseSVN (a Windows version of the Subversion software) to add my new files and check them in to my “everything Richard has written” repository on my laptop. I got an error telling me that it couldn’t do the update because the files needed to be cleaned up or something. I ran the cleanup script, mindlessly checking all the options — which included deleting all “unversioned files”. And since I hadn’t actually committed any of my work to the repository for a couple of months (I know, that’s bad practice on my part), TortoiseSVN merrily deleted two months’ worth of work on that novel, representing approximately 10,000 words, two critical scenes, character sketches, and plot point outlines. I also lost some homework (fortunately I’d already turned it in), the latest version of my resume, and three short stories that I’d drafted earlier this year.

If I’d been saving my files properly, adding and committing them to the repository, or even just saving them on Dropbox regularly, this wouldn’t have happened, so really I have no one to blame but myself and my bad file management practices. I was able to recover some of the work because I upgraded my Dropbox account and now I have access to their “Rewind” feature, but I’m still out a lot of work.

The resume, homework, and short stories… Meh. They can all be found elsewhere or rewritten (honestly, the stories were begging for rewrites anyway), but the novel… Yeah, I’m bummed. I’m honestly not sure I have the energy right now to rewrite those critical scenes as well as the revisions to earlier chapters I’d done in order to make room for the scenes.

So, I’m going to take a break.

Not from writing. Heavens no. The last time I took a long break from writing I ended up a quivering mess on the floor, begging for a word processor or a Scrivener license. No, I’m just taking a break from Devil, and moving on to another project. I think I shall draft The X of Doom, the first novel in my vaguely-outlined pirate trilogy. I have characters, I know the name of the ship, I have plenty of notes and plenty of research material. I’m also planning on running a Pathfinder game which will act as a sort of prequel to the trilogy (though the Pathfinder game will likely feature more elves and whatnot than there actually were during the Golden Age of Piracy).

I’m happy I’m not on a deadline for And the Devil Will Drag You Under. That’s one of the joys of being a terminally unpublished writer: You can write whatever you want, whenever you want. There’s no contract stipulating that you must have the manuscript in by a certain date, and no language saying that you have to return your advance if you don’t finish the work at all. If I did have a publishing contract, I’d have to suck it up and get to work anyway. I’d ask the agent/editor/publisher for an extension to the deadline, and all that, and that could get messy.

I’m not happy that I’ve lost the work.

So off I go. I’ll read various books about piracy and the high seas, and go from there.

So how’s your day?