Moment of Panic (Unnecessary)

Posted: March 12th, 2013 under Background, Contents, Conventions, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
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So…I went in last night to do some late work on the book after supper (which was late)  and after typing away decided it was time to quit.   Whereupon Microsoft Word said (in my phrasing)  “I feel sick and I’m quitting and what you’ve been working on may be lost when I shut down…Too bad, sucker.”

Getting Word to come back into cooperation when it’s had one of its snit fits requires shutting down the whole system,  being very firm that no, I do NOT want to save changes to the normal template, rebooting the system, and bringing back word, telling it again that no, even though it saved changes to the Normal template I do not want to use the changed version, and finally–finally!–getting back to the file I was in.   Some minutes of nail-biting and epithet muttering tension until I’m back in the file and can see what was or was not lost.

Nothing was lost.    The file I’d been working on was first-draft, and the last scenes I’d been working on pretty strongly emotional, so re-doing them–even after less than an hour’s gap–would have been hard, especially when tired and with a headache.   (The headache is still here today and tonight, and may be related not only to Daylight Savings Time (blech!!) but to the succession of fronts we’re having.  The sinuses are not happy.)    I want to finish that chapter tonight if possible before the next front (due overnight) blows in.

I spent part of the day re-reading the sections of Surrender None that had to do with Gird’s interactions with gnomes but then got hooked into my own story and had to finish.    There are some errors in the omnibus (more than one spelling of someone’ s name (but I remember the rush on that, as the original attempt to scan the mass-market led to hilarious and pervasive errors…)   But there are also important good things…things I needed to re-read, in light of Arcolin’s interactions with gnomes and how they’re going to react to the resurgence of magery and also the chaos that results in Girdish lands from that resurgence.

However (having turned the page and read the prologue to Liar’s Oath)  I was ready to smack my former self…no, that’s not right.   My excuse is that the entire book was written too soon after my mother’s death, and then hastily rewritten when then-publisher pointed out some major problems in the writing itself, and the prologue was a last-minute addition.   Grief screws up creativity:  it uses up a lot of energy and will.   So you can just rip that page out of the book (or ignore it, would be better.  Not sure that binding will survive a page being ripped out.)  The ending still has some problems, but not as many with the prologue discounted.

On the business side, I received my author’s copies of the new release of The Speed of Dark today, with its new cover.    I have another piece of news about that book, which I can’t release until later (taping my mouth shut and forcibly pulling my fingers off the keyboard for a moment…)  No, not a movie deal (I could wish!) but something else.

For those who attend conventions–I will be at A-Kon in Dallas in June and at WorldCon in San Antonio over Labor Day weekend.


  • Comment by Naomi — March 13, 2013 @ 3:23 am


    Ah the horror of MS Word glitches, been there, my deepest sympathy over your understandable panic. There was a woman once who invented a useful tool for situations like that, called a byte basher – a stick with a lump of foam on it so you could thump the computer without breaking anything, I think she deserved a prize…

  • Comment by Chuck — March 13, 2013 @ 7:38 am


    Don’t stress too much over the problem with “Liar’s Oath”–remember how much trouble Tolkien had reconciling the encounter of Bilbo and Gollum in the first edition of “The Hobbit” with the “true story” as it unfolded in “The Lord of the Rings.” Marion Zimmer Bradley heavily revised “The Bloody Sun” and then completely rewrote “The Sword of Aldones” as “Sharra’s Exile,” explaining the inconsistencies as the imperfect memories of the heavily damaged narrator. If one takes “Liar’s Oath” as based largely on a reconstruction by a Girdish scribe in Fintha, suggested by the materials recovered from Kolobia, and imperfectly transmitted rumors of what happens in Lyonya and parts south in the volumes including “Limits of Power” and beyond, then the differences from the “true” version recorded in the more recent volumes are easily explained. Or something like that. Enough to satisfy the reasonable reader’s willing suspension of disbelief.

  • Comment by Gareth — March 13, 2013 @ 8:07 am


    No harm in people (including us readers) “discovering” that what they thought happened in the past really happened very differently… because ‘history is written by the victors’

  • Comment by Wickersham's Conscience — March 13, 2013 @ 12:45 pm


    MS Word is a very dangerous tool on longer writing projects. As you note, it is unstable, particularly when doing edits to earlier drafts. When you use the markup tools (Tools -> Track Changes) and move the draft Windows Mac, document corruption is nearly inevitable.

    Isn’t there some kind of professional writer’s boot camp where they teach you stuff like that?

    For book writing, I now use Apple’s Pages. For plain old text (where someone else will be doing the formatting), I use BBEdit. I use Word only when clients make me, with a stern warning I will charge them for the time spent re-writing after Word crashes.

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 13, 2013 @ 2:45 pm


    Hysterical laughter at thought of writers’ boot camp instruction on software. Er…no. I started out with DOS on mainframes, and so gravitated naturally to the PC side of things, initially using WordStar, which was a great tool for long writing projects. WordStar never lost anything unless (as I did once) you mistyped a DOS command. Oops. Lot of time spent with recovery software. Anyway…loved WordStar, but now I use Word because my publisher wanted it. I stay with the oldest, simplest Word they’ll let me use. I loathe Track Changes, in part because it messes with my ability to revise for “flow.”

  • Comment by eilidh_j — March 13, 2013 @ 5:34 pm


    Have you considered printing as you go? Every couple of pages as you finish them, perhaps? Then you would have a lot of re-typing to do if it crashed, but not re-writing. Just a thought. Or would that just be a ridiculous amount of paper to keep track of? I only work on really short things, so it’s ok for me, but novel-length could well stack up very swiftly.

  • Comment by Jenn — March 13, 2013 @ 5:53 pm


    Is there anyway we can lobby for an end to dst. Nobody saves anything and your system gets all messed up. I may have to move back north.

  • Comment by Lise — March 13, 2013 @ 7:30 pm


    Don’t worry about Liar’s Oath. You have a lot less inconsistencies than most authors which is why Ilove your books so much.

  • Comment by pjm — March 13, 2013 @ 8:20 pm


    Ah WordStar. An excellent program, where you could see what you did as well as the results. Of course back then WYSISYG meant the screen showed bold and underline. I used ws for years before I was dragged into using Word when it became too inconvenient to set up the printer, and I still miss it from time to time.


  • Comment by elizabeth — March 13, 2013 @ 10:35 pm


    I used WordStar until I couldn’t get a printer driver for a new printer AND I couldn’t email WordStar files. I definitely still missi it. Stable, solid, and yes, you could see what was going on. Also, its handling of things like hyphenation was much better than Word. And the seamless melding of chapter files into one document…lovely.

    But. I email whole books now. Couldn’t then. Sigh.

  • Comment by Naomi — March 14, 2013 @ 2:42 am


    I really hate every upgrade of Word, making it more and more complicated – no programmer asked a secretary or typist what key strokes were the most frequently used, that’s for sure and aaaargh track changes can be the devil’s work, but the nightmare of all is the ‘compare’ function! I used Wordstar, gravitated to various other programs, including Word Perfect, which I initially hated but you could at least see how you had made errors…
    No problems with Liar’s Oath versus current changes, the finding of the scrolls starts the unpicking of altered writings doesn’t it!

  • Comment by Sharidann — March 14, 2013 @ 3:38 am


    My golden rule with every Microsoft program…
    Save often, then save some more and then pray…
    And save again.

    Even in a big file, it is a couple of seconds, but that helps.

  • Comment by Richard — March 14, 2013 @ 3:59 am


    I don’t use Word that much – write only a fraction of the amount you do – but know well the sequence you described. “Rebooting the system” – that can take half an hour before mine is willing to play ball again. It is a desktop PC I bought in 2002, with Windows XP (Home), but I blame most of the delay on my anti-virus software and other add-ons some of which I want and others I’d suppress if I could.

    If you worked on IBM’s mainframe DOS, how about VM-CMS that often went with it? PCs emulated on a mainframe before PCs themselves had been invented. That’s what my own programming career started on, but preparing work for IBM’s other mainframe operating system (then called OS/VS1, later MVS, …)

    Congrats on your good news (whatever it is).

  • Comment by pjm — March 14, 2013 @ 6:10 am


    Naomi – absolutely! For years word processors have had all the features any reasonable person would want. Now they are working on the features no reasonable person could possibly have a use for. (Actually that is a bit unfair, but there is at least a grain of truth in it).


  • Comment by Chuck — March 14, 2013 @ 7:24 am


    The secret to using “Track Changes” is to hide the marks and only view them when you need to compare something or restore something deleted. Even then, I have better results with printing out the file in color to use as a reference while I mark up the copy printed with the tracking invisible. Then I go back in and make my editing changes in the file. Editing on the screen is always more fraught than marking up a paper copy, I find.

  • Comment by Genko — March 14, 2013 @ 8:34 pm


    Congratulations on Speed of Dark, a wonderful book which I’ve recommended to several people. Totally agree with Word — the program I struggle with as little as possible. I sometimes have to do some kind of lightweight graphics work (flyers, post cards, etc.), and Word is absolutely awful, even though it’s supposed to be fine with things like text boxes, columns, etc., etc. It’s not. So I use an actual graphics software — InDesign — for anything beyond basic text. Saves on headaches for me, though others then who don’t know how to use the program complain. Whenever I have to do anything at all complicated in Word, I complain loudly and often (I really hate Word. Did I mention that I hate Word? Aaaaagh! and like that…)

  • Comment by Jennifer — March 14, 2013 @ 11:58 pm


    I tend to use emacs by default for text, and use LaTex or Pages for pretty text depending on context. I get twitchy when I’m too far from a command line interface, so Windows is not a favourite of mine.

  • Comment by Karen — March 15, 2013 @ 7:47 pm


    Believe it or not, I still remember the days of typewriters (we were allowed to use them in law school, but not computers), and I still have mine (although I have no idea if it still works).

    I’m also still using a 10-year old version of Word for just the reasons you describe.

    Meanwhile, I’ve recommended The Speed of Dark to everyone I know, whether they are personally affected by individuals with learning disabilities or not, simply because I feel it sheds such a unique and human insight into what it means to be “normal.”

    And as for any discrepancies in Luap’s tale, I have to confess that I never quite thought he was a gent who was honest even with himself.

  • Comment by Marit — March 16, 2013 @ 7:07 am


    It’s good to hear nothing was lost! I hope your computer stays in a good mood for the rest of the book!

    I’m looking forward to hearing the news concerning The Speed of Dark, whatever it is. I wish there was a Swedish translation of it, because I’m certain that my mother would enjoy it, but her English isn’t good enough for that kind of reading. Before her retirement, she used to work with children with different kinds of neurological disabilities, helping their schoolteachers find better ways of teaching them, based on each child’s way of taking in information.

  • Comment by GinnyW — March 16, 2013 @ 7:16 am


    There are definitely problems with the prologue to Liar’s Oath, and the way that events have unfolded in the current series. The prologue doesn’t really have much to with the trajectory of the book (Liar’s Oath), however. I had to go back and read it again, since it just locates the book as history of Paksworld and really doesn’t have much to do with Luap’s story. I am quite willing to ignore it in favor of the far more engaging and detailed unfolding of events in the current series. As for other inconsistencies, as Karen points out, the book is called Liar’s Oath for a reason.

    I use Microsoft Word all the time, since compatibility is an issue. I HATE automatic formatting, and deeply resent having my computer decide the “Normal” template. There is probably a way around that, but I am still working on it. I like being able to track changes, but I always start a new file to do it, with a very limited piece of the text.

  • Comment by Richard — March 16, 2013 @ 3:22 pm


    Suggestion: the reading order for the Paksworld books should be Gird, Paks (or vice versa), Legacy I-IV, Luap, Legacy V. The prologue to Liar’s Oath, inserted (I guess) to justify Kieri’s appearance at the end (providing the resolution), thus becomes superfluous. Asking three pages to encapsulate four then-undiscovered books was a tall order.

    More than one spelling of someone’s name: I make it Sier Se(h)grahlin – which I’d never have noticed without being told there was something to look for. Gird would have remembered how the name was said, not how it was spelt. I’m sure medieval scribes in our own world must have produced greater inconsistencies than that.

  • Comment by Jenn — March 16, 2013 @ 5:14 pm


    Wasn’t it Mark Twain who had a quote about the silliness of having only one spelling of a word?

    I am in favo(u)r of more than one spelling.

  • Comment by Jenn — March 16, 2013 @ 5:16 pm


    Off topic:

    I have found the song for Tammarion. “Penelope’s Song” by Loreena McKennitt. I think I will play it the next time I read that part of the Deed.

  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — March 16, 2013 @ 11:55 pm


    For self-published lab manuals, my tools were Word for large text sections and FrameMaker for the layout. FM put the graphics where I told it to put them. I had absolutely no patience with Word’s MIShandling of my graphics. And paper copies for review and markup. Anal about saving as I worked. Lots of grumbling about Word in its various permutations–no need for bells, whistles, and the latest gewgaws cluttering my workspace or getting in the way of my process!

  • Comment by Richard — March 17, 2013 @ 10:06 am


    (#21) Jenn,
    no, it was Samuel Clemens (sorry, I couldn’t resist that joke).

  • Comment by Susan — March 17, 2013 @ 9:25 pm


    Jenn, thanks for the song; it was so beautiful!

  • Comment by john — March 19, 2013 @ 9:38 am


    It is good to hear something is happening with Dark. It was one of the more compelling pieces of fiction I’ve ever read.

  • Comment by Karen — March 19, 2013 @ 7:26 pm



    I sing a song of saving things, of streams of thought that possess their own wings….

    Once I almost lost my academic career because of a three-day power outage when computers were relatively new, but someone had gotten the wonderful idea that take-home exams would give students the legitimate ability to refer to their notes while (to put it bluntly) also handing in ready-typed (and supposedly spell-corrected) verbiage.

    Of course, in my case, there was a Santa-Ana wind event that took out power for my home (oh, the horror of living without a curling iron for three days ;/) and left me unable to either turn in my final or even to know if I should begin re-drafting the whole thing by hand (the event was prior to the days of hard-drives) on the likely chance that the entire file had simply ceased to exist.

    Luckily (for my computer and my sanity), the whole thing was there when the extension my professor had graciously granted ended — but it has never erased the habit of saving (through muscle memory, for the most part) every few minutes.

    Unfortunately, even that is not a guarantee, so we save, and we print, and we save off-site….

    And we (or just I) pray frequently that all of my paranoia will pay off when it counts (I say pray because there have been times when it hasn’t).

    But glad we are that Ms. Moon’s manuscript is safe. What would we do if we had to descend on her en masse to demand the denouement, only to discover that the best version had perished because of the vagaries of MicroSoft?!?

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