Books Anne has written or has a chapter in.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Zen of Letting Go

Last night I experienced every writer’s worst nightmare. Lost words.  About 4,000 of them, gone up in smoke. Well, not literally, unless you count the smoke coming out of my ears.

In a brain-dead, careless moment, I overwrote the current chapter file of my new novel with an older one, and before I could stop it handily wiped out an entire week’s work that I’d sweated over, polished, reread dozens of times, tweaked here and there, corrected factual errors, and on and on. All gone.

I am not the type of person who cries easily – instead, I mentally shut down and pondered my navel (not so hard, given my current weight).  As I sat there, trying not to think about how what I’d just done was possibly the end of the world, I remembered being in a somewhat emotionally similar situation about a decade ago when my home office located in a little one-room cabin on our property close to the main house burned to the ground. Lost everything in it – the fire was so hot it shot up and singed the tops of several nearby trees and melted the glass in the window casements.  Everything a writer would have in an office literally went up in smoke. The insurance appraiser asked for a list of the cabin’s contents and I didn’t even know where to start. Um, there was that irreplaceable CD of new music Yngwie Malmsteen burned for me right off his mixing console, and there was this foot-tall soapstone replica of Bastet that melted to an unrecognizable lump, and well, there was a treasured autographed copy of Rita Mae Brown’s Wish You Were Here, oh and those stacks of T-shirts for Yngwie’s Fan Club, and filing cabinets of printed manuscripts, not to mention computer, printer, fax machine, stereo sound system, and on and on…

Because we live in a rural county out in the woods, by the time the fire truck water tanker of the volunteer fire department finally found our quarter-mile driveway in the trees, there was nothing they could do but wet down the  surrounding trees to keep the fire from spreading out into the woods. I was numb for days after the Great Beechwood Fire, as we referred to it later (Beechwood being the dirt road we lived on). But gradually, my long-suffering husband and I reached a point where we just stopped mourning what was gone and started looking forward. We hired a bulldozer, scraped the burn site bare, put in a small pond, and stocked it with native gambusia and water lilies. Planted roses and native azaleas around the flagstone path, encouraged a wall of bamboo, watched dragonflies skim the top of the pond, listened to the chorus of frogs hanging out on the lily pads at night, watched critters like raccoons, ‘possums, and even deer stop there to drink. We had indeed moved on.

So, last night when I was staring at the screen and thinking dark thoughts like self immolation or decapitation, I remembered the lovely pond and how the Great Fire had been a blessing in disguise. With that in mind, I got up, stretched, made a pot of tea, did some deep breathing, and started typing.  By midnight, I’d rewritten as much of the lost chapter as I could remember and put in markers and notes where things needed to go that I couldn’t remember word for word. Maybe the original version I’d ruined wasn’t as perfect as I’d supposed, and maybe my second attempt at writing that chapter would be even better. Anything is possible….

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