Thursday 21 April 2011

A Happy Catastrophe - John Dougherty

A couple of weeks ago, I did something stupid. Really stupid. Really, really, really, really stupid. So stupid that I’d always assumed I was nowhere near stupid enough to do it.

It appears I was wrong.

What I did was: I accidentally and permanently erased about half a novel-in-progress from my computer.

Reader, I cannot begin to describe to you the icy sweat that broke over my brow as I realised the sheer stupidness of the stupidity of the stupid thing I had just done. Well - I could, but you’d have to remove the family-safe filters from your browser to be able to read it. It was truly, truly horrible. Weeks of work down the pan. A good story fatally truncated, potentially forever.

I ran to the house and called my friend Marc, who knows considerably more than I do about Apple computers. He had some words of comfort. It was possible that the document was still on my hard drive somewhere. He gave me some software that might help.

I couldn’t load it.

At this point, I made the decision to write off the loss. It was still possible that I could have retrieved my lost work, but it was starting to look as if it would be quicker just to rewrite the thing. So I decided to do just that.

Now, those brave souls who have stuck with me this far will be saying: clearly this was the catastrophe, but where’s the happy bit?

Well, this was a happy catastrophe because it made me realise that I’d recently fallen into some very bad writing habits. I’d been letting other things get in the way of my writing much too much.

But losing so much of this first draft focused the old grey matter in a rather extraordinary way. It reminded me that, actually... I’m a writer. My job, my occupation, the thing that I do, is to write stories for children. All the other stuff that gets in the way is just, well, stuff that gets in the way.

So I put everything else aside. All those little distractions that’ll “only take a minute” instead took no time at all, because I didn’t do them. I got straight to work, and worked solidly. When that familiar little voice in the back of my head began to suggest that perhaps I was a bit stuck and should take a break, I ignored it and ploughed on. When I got that nagging feeling that there were other things I had to do, I reminded myself that I had to do this, and I kept writing. And in only two days, I’d rewritten the lost portion.

Better still, I was able to keep the momentum going. Another day and zooosh! - I’d completed the story. At the pre-catastrophe rate of progress, it should have taken another couple of weeks at least; but now, with my new awareness of my bad habits and the distractions that might have plagued me, I was once more writing at top speed.

So, that’s the story of my happy catastrophe - a reminder that every cloud really does have a silver lining.

At least, I hope it does, because three days later the publisher I’d been aiming this story at rejected it without actually having read it. Humph. When I find the silver lining in that one, I’ll let you know.

John's website is at

I'll be offline for a few days, so won't be able to join in any discussion in the comments, but I'll look forward to reading them when normal broadband is restored. Oh, and I now have a shiny new external hard drive and am backing everything up regularly...


catdownunder said...

Ow! I am about to lose access to my computer for a time - until my BIL can sort out the problem I am having.
I am a nervous wreck. I have backed everything up once, some things twice. I have taken off environmentally unsound hard copies of the novel I have on submission and my WIP - and I am still feeling anxious.
I really feel for you!

Nicky said...

With luck someone else will take it for an unusually generous advance. Here's hoping.

Linda Strachan said...

A timely reminder not to let other things get in the way or the real job - writing- and once you get started and don't allow those other distractions to get in the way a huge amount can be accomplished.

I love deadlines because they have that effect on me - probably just a lack of will power and being easily distracted by new and shiny things..sigh!

M. J. Macie said...

I had lost a page of my work and about died. I can only imagine how much worse the experience was for you. I'm so glad it all worked out in the end. Great post! Reminds us of how human we are.
M.J. Macie

Rosalie Warren said...

Well done, John. And thanks for reminding us that it's the writing that's important.

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

Just reading of your experience made me sense a cold sweat coming on. Admire your resilience though. Off to back up now...

Penny Dolan said...

Good luck with your newly resolved state (and the end of your bad computer luck. Hope that someone else wants your new story soon!

Stroppy Author said...

Well done for being so resilient. But one of the things that *should* take time out of writing is backing up your writing!

Julie P said...

It's amazing how bad writing habits seem to creep up on us isn't it. A cautionary tale indeed. But well done on re-writing it. I take my hat off to you. A lot of people would have given up at that point - but you soldiered on.That's the sign of a true writer.

And as for the editor who rejected your work, PAH! The silver lining to that little inconvenience is that there is usually something better for you around the corner when you sub it somewhere else.

Julie xx

Lynne Garner said...

Thankfully I've never lost anything like the amount you did. But this has made me realise that perhaps the half hour spent playing 'marbles' on Facebook could have been better spent editing my latest picture book

Leila said...

This happened to me when I was 16 or so - I still remember the anguish. Really sorry this happened, but glad you got something positive out of it!