I’ve been rereading Little Women with the kids. I still enjoy it, though not as thoroughly as I did when I was young. I find myself wanting to tell Jo not to learn to tuck all her anger away. Especially when Amy burns Jo’s only copy of a manuscript she’s been working on for years, just to be spiteful. I’m not sure how forgivable an offense that is.
As we were taking part of the Great Chimney Fire Escape of 2012, I realized, much too late, that while I’d managed to grab the kids and the cats and the dog, I’d left my netbook on the couch. The couch right under the area which would soon be filled with water if the firemen discovered the fire had made it out of the chimney and into the attic crawlspace. How much of the work on the netbook was backed up elsewhere? Not enough, and some of that not enough was on the dinosaur of a computer sitting on the other side of the chimney.
I don’t remember saying anything out loud about it, but I must have. My son took a breath and said, in his calmest voice (calm was a scarce commodity at the moment), “Not to be rude or anything, but the pets are more important than the writing.”
An interesting question. The answer, of course, is that the pets cannot be backed up anywhere, while the writing can and should be, in lots of places, at least some of which should not be fire or water accessible. If you haven’t recently backed up your files, take a minute to go and do so.
It’s always possible to write more words. It would have been possible for me to take older versions of stories I’d been working on and continue on from there. Given the exact same choice, I’d have stopped to catch the cats and call the dog rather than grab the computer every time.
But…writing is not just words. Writing is the hours you put into a story, not just the hours of words, but the hours of thought. It’s the finally figuring out a sentence that’s been puzzling you for days. The personal part, not the publishing part, not the working with readers or editors part, but the piece that begins with an idea that will not leave you alone, that piece is bound up in those words that can be lost to water, to fire, to carelessness, and may never come again in the same way.
There’s more as well. That netbook was a Christmas present from my parents and my siblings one year. The same year my children gave me a pair of fingerless wool gloves and a little USB stick thingy (yes, that is EXACTLY what it’s called). Tools for a writer. A writer with cold hands and a ancient noisy computer. A writer who was only just beginning to admit she was a writer. I’m not really one for things, aside from books, but those three objects serve as reminders of the faith my family has in me.
Yes–kids, spouse, pets–they all come before anything else when a fire calls. But the humble little netbook would have been a hard loss to bear.