I just lost a finished piece of writing. I’ve done a great job of deleting it beyond my reach. I nurtured it, polished it, and didn’t even get to kiss it goodbye, as I managed to find a way to press three wrong keys in succession. They say that Big Brother (eg, Google, Facebook, Microsoft et al) is collecting all we do on a keyboard, but I think this one is gone.
The way I’m writing—around 750 words a couple of times a week—it’s all about last-minute inspiration, never planned. And equally it’s gone from my head ten minutes later. So re-creating work is very difficult, and unsatisfying. I can recall some of the content, but it just doesn’t flow. When I have tried it comes out like one of those identikit pictures of criminals, more or less right, but completely unlike any real person. So I don’t do it, but tend I tend to wallow in a small sense of loss for a day or two. If I tell anyone the gist of the piece they glaze over—the verbal version is just not good writing.
This is so unlike when I was working and emails were my main form of communication. I loved writing important requests or arguments for or against a policy. Persuasion was my job in many ways, and writing my favourite way of doing it. Meetings, giving speeches or talking to the media were all good on their day, but for me nothing compared to the opportunity to marshal information and opinion, to wrangle them into a coherent narrative, while all the time thinking from the position of the intended reader and how to shift it just a little my way. Sometimes I took a few hours to write four or five hundred words, but I usually found the effort was worth it.
When, as everybody has sometimes, I managed to irretrievably delete a finished gem, the sense of despair and frustration was right up there with getting a speeding fine; a disaster with no-one to blame but me. But I had to start again, because it what I was being paid to do. The person who shared my office was infinitely more savvy with Microsoft Word than I, so she trained me to take my hands off the keyboard and ask for help as soon as I lost work. Sometimes it was simple, sometimes she had to bring in the tech-nerds from the back office, and sometimes I really had managed to replace a polished work with a blank page
So then I had to start again, because it what I was being paid to do. At this point, my off-sider usually left for as long as possible, knowing I would be taciturn, un-generous company until the new version was complete. In some ways it was easier than my current predicament, because there were more facts involved, more notes I had made about key issues, quotes from policies that I knew had to be included and so on. But the all-important flow, tailored for a particular audience, had to be re-imagined, and it often took longer the second time. Once, the tech nerds brought me the original back after I had created and sent off a new version. The difference was substantial. Some of my best lines had been completely forgotten. Some new ones were better than the original. Makes me wonder what might have happened if Martin Luther King had lost the first version of his speech: whether ‘I had a dream’ would ever have been said. Maybe he meant to say ‘We can dream together’ or “I have dreamt of a time when—‘, but lost those notes, so history changed for ever.
Anyway, my piece from yesterday (I have only the title—‘A penny for your thoughts’) is gone. In retirement I don’t have Susan sitting in the next chair, saying firmly ‘Stop, don’t touch it, (loudly) go and get us a cup of tea and I’ll see what I can do.’ The perks of office. Ah well, I just have to reach the skill level of the average eight-year-old and my embryonic writing career may yet flourish…