Many years ago I recall reading one of Garrison Keillor's essays about a lost comedy piece--a story he had worked on in a train station, composing on yellow legal pads. After boarding the train, and several miles down the track, Keillor suddenly realized that he had left the yellow legal pads in the train station restroom where he had washed his hands prior to departure. In that moment of losing his work, Keillor was certain that he had forfeited some of the best work of his life, and he moved on down the track feeling lonely and dejected.
I tell this story because, as I have talked to other writers over the years, it is obvious that most have encountered this lost feeling at one time or another.
A few years ago, when my PC crashed, leaving me with only the blue screen of death, I realized that I had several great stories, essays, and book proposals that I had not backed up. They were lost. And for some weeks I walked around in a stupor, a writer's funk, a purgatory of the soul. I just couldn't get going again, certain that I had also lost some of the best work I had ever produced.
I try to do a better job now of backing up my work . . . lingering doubts always in my mind as to the trustworthiness of memory chips produced in Japan. I write, but always with the fear and trepidation, however distant, that someday the lights might go out and I'd lose, say, an entire year's-worth of work.
Toward that end, I have always appreciated my 1993 Compaq PC (with Windows '95 operating system and three fans). This computer still runs. But some years ago I had apply named it "Old Sparky" due to its tendency to suddenly leap into flame (which is why I also kept a spray bottle next to the keyboard).
Last night, in a post-midnight apocalyptic fit of locating some old stories I knew I had written (again, certain that these were some of the best material I have ever produced) . . . I fired up Old Sparky and set about navigating through a few hundred floppy discs to see what I could find.
In particular, I was looking for a horror story entitled "Up in Jacky's Treehouse". And low and behold, after perusing more than 50 floppies, each holding a myriad of essays and poems and whole book manuscripts, I finally found "Jacky". In addition, I also found four other stories that, for the life of me, I can't remember writing at all. It was like reading another person's work . . . but I'm looking forward to reading these again, and seeing how well I did writing the stories--some, perhaps, twelve or thirteen years ago.
I love finding these types of gifts. I'm sure there are more that I have not yet discovered among the hundreds of other floppies that I have stored in boxes and closets. Losing a story is depressing. But locating old ones, and, even better, finding homes for them with a publisher, is pure gravy.