By Lindsey Wojcik
Who steals a jump drive?
Better yet, what motivates someone to steal an item that's relatively cheap to purchase at any office supply store?
I often obsess over what plausible answers to these questions would be because four years ago my jump drive and laptop—both of which contained my entire college portfolio, among other valuable items. My prized writer possessions were stolen from me by faceless, unknown person or persons who burglarized my New York City apartment—an apartment in a new neighborhood that I had just moved into three weeks prior. I was saved from the frightening experience of a home invasion, however, losing everything I had written—digitally, at least, published and unpublished—was, in some ways, more frightening.
I was a recent college graduate chasing an editorial career in the big city, miles away from home, and my entire body of work was taken from me. I felt helpless and much like Carrie Bradshaw when her computer crashed (as someone who had recently moved to New York City, I was also a “Sex and the City” addict). “What if everything I’ve ever written is gone?” Carrie ponders. “When’s the last time you backed up?” Miranda asks. I thought I was the anti-Carrie by backing up my work by using a jump drive. As it turns out, it didn’t matter.
Again, I have to ask: Who steals a jump drive?!
I too wondered if all was lost, so after experiencing the five stages of grief, I began a mental checklist of the important work that my stolen technology contained. Every single thing I ever wrote for my university's student newspaper—where I worked for three years, eventually becoming editor in chief—came to mind. Was that all erased?
Thankfully, the journalism department at my alma mater required a portfolio to graduate. That lovely black portfolio with hard copies of only some of my standout pieces was safely nestled near the crime scene. All was not lost. Although it felt like it because, with the exception of those few printed pages, PDFs of every story that I’d written and published in college were on the hijacked jump drive.
Being a pack rat was my saving grace. I had kept a hard copy of each volume and number of my college’s newspaper stashed away at my parent’s home back in Michigan. There are two Sterilite totes filled with those newspapers, as well as copies of the weekly alternative newspaper I interned at, stacked in my childhood closet. And even that got me thinking: Are those totes are waterproof? I sure hope so. If I lose those because of water damage or, God forbid, a fire, I will lose it.
However, all of the unpublished Word documents saved on the stolen computer that held my college-aged thoughts and ideas vanished, which is soul-crushing in many ways. I’ll never know the end of those old, unfinished sentences scattered over many saved pages with ambiguous names. And any future memoir recounting my college years will require long, deep thought from my wine-addled brain.
Though I’ve accepted the loss of those material items (okay, maybe I am still harboring a bit of a grudge) and have since replaced my computer, the experience made me re-think how I archive my written work. My personal archive is still a work in progress, but since the break in I’ve kept a paper trail of everything. I’ve also tried to leave a digital footprint of my work (published and unpublished) somewhere on the Internet.
My professionally published work is mostly digital, so I have a compiled list with links to those stories stowed on my email account. Perhaps, as an added safety measure, I should consider printing out each story with my byline. I also have hard copies of each magazine I've written professionally for in some of those totes at my parent's home. I am grateful they allow me to store so much of my stuff there. My current New York City apartment wouldn't allow such storage (and as Daniel Ford points out, the New York Public Library might not be enough).
My unpublished pieces now reside in a folder on my Google Drive. You can steal a woman's laptop and jump drive with precious content once, but steal again and all is not lost for the woman—unless Google is down. Does that mean that Google owns my life’s work? Maybe I should check into that.
I have half-filled notebooks in every room of my apartment scribed with ideas, half-written pieces, and some nonsense. It helps to look back on those lost thoughts, and often, it tailspins into a cohesive piece that I could eventually publish. After all, that’s how this post began.
A writer’s archive of work—published or unpublished—is a treasure allowing the writer to display the sparkling gems that earned great praise or even strike gold with the rediscovery of an old thought. It is sacred, and it should be treated as such.
Go forth a build your own treasure chest. Just make sure to put a LoJack on it.
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