Delete & repeat

It’s just the worst, isn’t it? Something you worked on for hours accidentally deleted, and none of the technical tips and tricks have worked to recover it. Not the ‘restore previous versions’ function on the recycle bin, not downloading that special software… Nothing. Gone.

It will be a recognisable heart-sinker for almost everyone, certainly at work at some point. Though it must have been so much worse before computers, when everything was laboriously pecked out on a typewriter or, perhaps more cruelly, done in longhand.

T E Lawrence is said to have accidentally have left a draft of his quasi-autobiography Seven Pillars of Wisdom, describing his experiences in the Arabian desert, behind on Reading Station whilst changing trains. Imagine trying to recover that? Not the sinking hope it will be berthed safely in Trash or somewhere in the deepest Archives, but a despairing expedition to the Lost Property office. At any rate, the original typescript was lost to Lawrence—believed to have turned up again in the 1980s.

Trains must have been a particular hazard back in the day, because several years after Lawrence’s experience, in 1922 (the year Seven Pillars finally was published, in fact), Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley took a train from Paris to join her husband in Switzerland, packing Ernest’s works in progress in her bag—including  carbon copies. Even if you haven’t heard this well-known story before, you can guess where it’s going.  Yes, whilst she was buying water for the trip, Hadley’s bag was stolen, manuscripts, carbon copies, and all. Hemingway wrote about the incident—Hadley’s “unbearable suffering” over it and his own response—in his memoir A Moveable Feast.

It must have been harder to be philosophical about re-writing on a manual typewriter

Novelist and poet JM Falkner lost a manuscript on the train between Durham and Newcastle. Also on a public-transport theme, popular fiction author Jilly Cooper left an early manuscript of her saucy novel Riders on a London bus, and took over a decade to get around to re-writing it.

There are many famous and similarly tragic tales of work either lost to the world, or having to painfully be re-done by their renowned creators— from Robert Ludlum (lost in a bar—probably) to A S Byatt (a notebook stolen by a motorcycle thief at a red light in Rome).

Aside from indicating that a person’s sole copy of a manuscript should never leave the house (as long as there isn’t a house fire, that is), all of this puts my own recent loss into huge perspective.

Not only am I not some titan of literature (erm, very obviously), nor the producer of page-turning bestsellers, it was just a few thousand words. Painful, yes—those words took precious time I do not have, and included research. Moreover, I felt I was making progress and getting back into writing having been unable to do so for a few weeks. BUT, it’s obviously a relatively minor matter.

Fruitless searching through folders done with, there is nothing for it now but to get on with re-writing, whilst trying to adopt a philosophical perspective. With this acceptance in mind, I will try to remember this weekend, as I settle at the desk for several stolen hours, that
• The work is not completely gone—some of the ideas are there still in my head, and I had better get them out again quick smart, and…
• If I cannot recall some of the draft, perhaps it wasn’t that memorable and worth re-writing in any case.
• The text may improve through this enforced form of ‘re-writing’. It may be leaner or better structured; new ideas may come that will enhance it. Well, one can hope…

And yes, it’s a lesson learned (again!) For all their advantages, computers bring new risks of failure, to forget to save, accidentally delete, or to overwrite. So yes, back up; back up; back up. Though all I can say to that is: I know; I know; I know. And no doubt I will make the same mistake again one day.

There is a good audio account by Hadley of the Hemingway lost manuscript here
Images: Tama66; rawpixel

20 thoughts on “Delete & repeat

  1. Apart from getting hold of a mastermind spy computer expert – the ones who apparently have access to every word we ever put on the computer, it sounds as if all hope is lost, we feel your pain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the waves of sympathy. And yes, there is an irony we’re told there is nowhere to hide, then we cannot find our own bloomin’ files on our own PCs.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. do a search for a phrase within the document (from the File Explorer window – top right of screen). If it’s there, anywhere, it will come up (fingers crossed).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks cagedunn, I’ll give that a go!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. :/ Hmm a timely reminder, I’m always putting off saving PC photos onto a memory stick.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sometimes I just email myself a copy, probably not the best idea.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. :/ Hmm that’s a good idea.


  4. First I am so sorry to hear the loss. There are recovery software, you can pay and get it recovered. Please use an expert advice on that. And the sooner you do it better it is, if you want to explore that path.
    Now coming to your writing, I am in complete awe for many reasons. To list a few
    – your research
    – the humor
    – the grounding
    And the positivity. You my friend is awesome

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, that is just too generous. Thank you for reading, supporting, and kind condolences.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My absolute pleasure my friend

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Me: Reads this post, cringes, and says aloud, “Where is my flash drive again?” Must. Save. Work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. With me it takes something like this to get good habits back on track.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I must thank you again – I related this to Cyberspouse who reminded me of the rectangular flat shiny blue thingy about the size of a phone he gave me to back up everything every week. Then put somewhere far from the computer and take on holiday!


  6. Someone once told me, when I lose something I have been working on, that the second time it is created, it is always better. So instead of cursing and trying to recover documents, I just get to work on the next one. Maybe some subconscious processing has occurred or something. I have no idea. But it seems to be true. So I wish the best for you in the re-creation process. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! And that’s what I’m telling myself. Think it’s all about moving on and sitting down to just get it done.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. If we do this long enough something painful will arrive at our doorstep. In some cases it is a deleted piece of our work. I try to keep several copies lying around but I know, one day, something tragic will happen.

    For as tragic as this is for you I agree with meximinnesotana . The second time around is better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, yes, I regained some ground at the weekend and think that’s true. I need to be more organised – ‘version confusion’ led to the deletion.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Happened to me…with the book (Absurd Stories). I was 100001% 😤 argggghhh! Or mad. Or madly sane.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. On no, that is a bit harder to be philosophical about! Commiseration.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is decently worded and practical, thankyou. I like the way you cover points minus hyperbole. It’s useful information and I deem you worth sharing.


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