That’s my garden this past September. I promised you flowers, didn’t I?

The following is a description of the manuscript-loss cycle, viewed through the lense of the Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle. A lighthearted fun-poke at my writer friends, any author who’s had this happen knows the stages and feelings described are all real on some level. Yes, it’s happened to me, but this isn’t about my experience; as you’ll see, it’s about yours. It starts with…

Shock. Your flash drive is not where you left it. Blood running cold, ears and armpits hot, you try to regulate your breathing as you do another rummage through your “safe spot.” Your body is reacting, but the rest of you remains mercifully unaware of the severity of the situation. You’ll just go to the backup file on your desktop hard drive and… okay, not so much. You forgot to “Save As,” and the backup manuscript file hasn’t been touched for weeks—the weeks you spent writing brilliant things in the manuscript. On the flash drive. On your laptop.

Denial. You haven’t lost that document. It’s just… taking a walk in cyberspace right now. And—of course, now you remember!—it was renamed and you can’t remember what you named it. That’s it. It was renamed and it took its new name with it on a nice walk in the cyberpark. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because you’ll find the flash drive any minute now and save the day… which turns into a week. “Why aren’t you writing?” ask your author pals. “Taking a much-needed creative break.” You’re thinking of your file skipping down the cyberpath, basket of flowers bouncing merrily. Tra-la-la!

Anger/Guilt. It’s become clear now that some super-villain out to rob the world of all goodness has stolen your flash drive and sabotaged your backup file because you clearly remember hitting “Save,” and then “Save As,” and pulling the flash drive out of the USB port. Then you put it… Umm… It’ll come in a minute, just be patient and waaaait for it…

Oh, dear. Your head is starting to pound. What an irresponsible wreck you are. How could you have forgotten anything concerning that manuscript? That manuscript was your life! You loved it, and it’s all your fault it’s… Wait a minute. What about your houseguests? That pointy-headed little brat probably did it on purpose! Finishing his history project your big toe! Well. He fiddled with the wrong file this time. A single phone call to his parents should end his life as he knows it! He didn’t even finish his tuna casserole. Hold on… what were you talking about again?

Despair. In that manuscript was the story of your life. And now it’s gone. What will you tell your grandkids? The amount of style, hard work, and sheer genius in one paragraph of that manuscript dwarfed the sum total of all that could be found in your entire home library, and now that special light will never be shared with the world. You just… never thought it would end like this, so suddenly.

Your consumption of Dove chocolate increases to half a bag, and then the whole thing. Daily. You deserve it; you feel so alone. You must never speak of this to your author pals. No matter how willing they are to listen, they just don’t understand. That manuscript was. Your. Life.

Acceptance. You’ve finally stopped flinching at the sight of the word processor icon on your desktop. So the story’s gone. You’ve lost worse things. And when you were at your most maudlin stage of self-pity, you confided in an author pal who told you she lost someone else’s work, way back in the hard-copy days. What she must have gone through! You’ve bought a writing diary to start getting in some writing therapy. And you can feel it working. The style, the genius, the perseverance—they’re all beginning to combine themselves in familiar concentrations. Not yet, but pretty soon, you’ll be ready to move on to something new.

Remember to keep at least a double backup for your digital manuscript files!

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