Avi WordCraft blog

My best piece of writing

On the recently viewed Ken Burns documentary on Ernest Hemingway, he relates an incident in which the writer, in Spain (I recall) asked his wife to bring a suitcase of his recent writings to him. She was in Paris. The story goes that the suitcase was lost on a train, never to be found. The incident, so it appears, did not help the marriage. 

And I once heard Garrison Keillor describe a time when he lost a bundle of manuscript, also on a train. I remember, if memory still holds, he was sure it was the best writing he had ever composed. 

lost files

Anyone who works on a computer (as I do) knows the routine. You think you have saved something, and you haven’t, or you save it to one of your five thousand files, and you don’t know which and you can’t find it, or the electricity goes out for two seconds and the computer blinks off, or you send something to someone sure you have an extra copy, and it isn’t, and the work is lost in the mail. 

I think about this today because I just lost my morning’s work. My best piece of writing? Of course! But I’ll never know. I’ll just think it. 

Admit it: It’s happened to you, and I’m sure it was your best piece of writing. 

The one story I heard about something like this with a happy ending goes like this, a pre-computer story. A friend of mine after many years of labor had finished her Ph.D. thesis. Having typed it up—she had one of those electric typewriters which used a spool of carbon ribbon to ink the page—she bundled up the manuscript and headed across her university town to deliver the thesis to her professor. She went on a bicycle (poor student) and had put the MS in her bike basket. On the way, she paused to buy herself a celebratory cup of coffee. (No doubt she had been up all-night typing). 

When she came out of the coffee shop, the manuscript—the only copy of the manuscript she had—was gone. Harrowing. Disaster. Total trauma.  

A search ensued in which a fair number of people were involved. Since the manuscript had no earthly value to anyone but her, surely the thief, on realizing what was stolen, threw it away, so the search included numerous trashcans.   

searching trashcans
Photo 83016429 © Marko Bukorovic | Dreamstime.com

It was not found. Her best piece of writing—and the most crucial she had ever composed. 

Then she had an idea: That spool of carbon ribbon. She looked at it carefully. When the keys of that typewriter hit that kind of ribbon, they punched out the carbon, leaving a bare spot in the shape of the letter. Unspooling the entire tape (the length of the distance from the earth to the moon) my friend realized that the entire manuscript was there, upside down to be sure, but THERE. 

She took that ribbon and cut it up sentence by sentence and pasted each line in a blank book.  Goodness knows how long that took but, in the end, she reconstituted the entire book. 

Then she retyped TWO copies. 

The moral of this story: don’t lose your writing. Because if you do lose it, it was your best. 

As for my lost pages today, I’ve not found them. Surely my…… Never mind.

5 thoughts on “My best piece of writing”

  1. There’s the cloud, though I have mixed feels about sending my important files hundreds of miles away, under the care of Google or Microsoft.

  2. I always think in regards to my computer… It is not if it goes, but when it goes. So you gotta save everything. I was remembering that when I did lose that “best piece” of writing, after tears, an argument with myself, and probably a curse word at the computer… I actually wrote an even better piece that second time around.

  3. Just the thought of losing a piece of writing – no matter how short – is terrifying. However, if I’m being honest, whenever I’ve been forced to rewrite something I’ve lost, the 2nd version turns out 1,000% better than the original. It just hurts more.


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