I’ve had a challenging week, technologically speaking, which I trace back to a moment of over-confidence. It seemed such a simple task, to update my computer’s protection programme. All I had to do was follow the instructions.
I opened the website and hit the big download button. Boxes opened, more buttons appeared: agree this, click next, choose that, add the other. This is a bit much, I thought, but I felt a little smug about doing what I view as a tedious, time-consuming chore. A finish button came up, and I didn’t even pause when another dialogue box started a new set of instructions.
I was on a roll. It felt good to be in control of my computer.
That happens with my writing sometimes. I have characters racing around my story doing all sorts of fascinating things, and the word count is rising so steadily that I can hardly type fast enough to keep on top of it all.
That’s great, that’s my ideal. Story building from instinct, most of us aspire to that. The theory is that if you can surprise and entertain yourself, then it’s likely that your reader will have a similar experience.
Except, sometimes, we run out of steam that way. How many of you have also set off at a cracking pace only to find, two pages in, that you’ve hit a wall. You have no idea where your character is going to go next. The story has become either too mundane, or too ridiculous and you can’t think how to rescue it..
Those who’ve already foreseen the outcome of my computer upgrade will probably have guessed that my careless box ticking corrupted my poor little laptop. It won’t surprise you to hear that I spent the next three days chasing error messages around my screen as I fed it passwords and new logins, to no avail. It was the weekend, so I resisted the urge to phone our friendly expert, until today.
‘You need to do a system restore,’ he said, and clicking through the control panel, he showed me how to return the computer to the settings it had been at before I began downloading. Just like a story, I thought, read back to find the point where you began to drift, then start writing again.
At this point, I would like to drift a little from my metaphor title, and suggest that it’s best not to be be quite so drastic as a system restore, which wipes out everything that happened after the date you chose. I advocate keeping a copy of all your story changes, just so that you can go back and reassure yourself that you were right to cut it. Otherwise, those permanently deleted moments of flying inspiration will always haunt you.