My Jo March Moment and How It Shaped my Writing

When I was in my final year of high school, I was over halfway through writing The Fields By My House. I had maybe eighty to one hundred pages left to write, and I was ecstatic. Finally, after two and a half years of writing, my first novel would be in its completed form.

And then the worst happened. My old laptop (of which I've since junked) got a virus. My entire manuscript lived in OpenOffice, where the virus took hold. I went to my computer, just like any normal day, to update a chapter- and my manuscript was gone. It was nothing but black lines all through the pages. I did everything I could to get it back; my sister looked up videos on how to retrieve corrupted files, I tried again and again to unlock the document- but it was gone. The work of two and a half years had disappeared, and my heart was completely shattered.

I cried for about three days after this happened. I couldn't concentrate on anything, my schoolwork felt irrelevant, and my friends couldn't understand what I was going through. No one could help me figure out how to get past such a blow. During those few days, I felt like I understood the plight of Jo March better than I ever had. Her manuscript was burnt, and mine was digitally disintegrated. There was little difference in our situations, the only real one being that no one destroyed my book out of malicious intent. I kicked myself for not saving the document in another program, and I junked my laptop quite soon afterward.

However, not all hope was lost. I don't know if it was because of the stress or the heat of the moment, but for the life of me, I couldn't find a single scrap of my book in my google docs. I looked and looked for days, and found nothing, even though I was certain I still had some chapters in there. A few days after I lost my book, I decided to just try one more time. I was no longer in hysterics, though I figured it was a fruitless endeavor. Nevertheless, I decided I had nothing to lose. I will never understand or figure out how it happened, but when I logged into my google docs, sitting right before my eyes were the first twelve chapters of my novel.

I flipped out. I bawled my eyes out, cried tears of joy and relief that all my hard work had not been lost. I had managed to retain the core chapters of my book, the ones that built up the main story. So I had a new task before me- there was no point in trying to rewrite what I had done before, that story was gone. So instead, I would find a new way to tell the story of Mabel and Peter, through a new lens, and with a new sense of urgency.

That terrible time made me realize just how important writing was and is to me. I used to believe that I chose to be a writer, but that is not so. I realized that I don't just enjoy writing, I have to do it. It's a part of me that holds so much of my soul, that if I stopped writing, I would never be the same person that I am now. Losing my book taught me that I couldn't let any grass grow under my feet- I had to write my story while it still lived inside of me.

I finished chapters 13-26 plus the epilogue in only two months. All that time spent agonizing over the loss of my novel, I had internally and absent-mindedly been building a whole new world for it. I didn't allow myself to lose any momentum or focus on my book, I just took hold of my authoress reins and I steered the story into my desired direction. And if I may say so humbly, it turned out beautifully, and perhaps even better than its predecessor.

It was shortly after this that I watched the 2017 Little Women for the first time. The scene where Amy burnt Jo's book hit me in such a different way, such a personal way than it had when I first read the novel or watched the '95 film. I relived my own agony along with Jo and sympathized with her. But just like Jo, I was better for it.

Knowing my writing was something I could lose instilled in me the determination to make my words count, to make them memorable so that they could lift off from their pages and live within the memories of their readers. I like to think that I've achieved that to some extent, and I will always strive to reach that goal continuously. Jo and I now share a bond I've only ever held with one other fictional red-headed character- something that cannot be explained to people outside of it. And every time I watch or read that beautiful story of Louisa May Alcott's creation, I am reminded all over again not just how much I adore Little Women and its story, but of how much my own writings mean to me.

July 18th, 2020

J.E Stanway

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