This morning I had an accidental select all delete followed by auto save, which prevented me from just hitting undo. My novel became an empty file. I use MS Word.

I had emailed a copy of it a few weeks ago, so was able to retrieve 628 pages. I must now reconstruct just over one hundred pages with a dozen plot points. I would like to come as close to the original as possible, but know most will differ.

I have written each major plot point on a separate line followed by the word bookmark so I can work on them out of sequence and flesh them out properly. I use the word bookmark as a bookmark.

Right now it is looking like:

  • Shooting at recital bookmark

  • Secondary protagonist gets shot bookmark

  • Flight through the woods bookmark

  • Tertiary protagonist tries to help bookmark

Etc. Is there a better method of reconstructing prose? Or should I embrace the void and just write it completely differently?

  • 5
    Ack! So sorry to hear :-/ This is somewhat beside the actual question, but do consider consulting with a professional -- often there are backups and temporary files which might save your bacon, or some of it :)
    – Standback
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 4:10
  • 6
    Don't do anything else on that computer, especially don't save or modify any files. There are plenty of file recovery tools around, it might be worth a try! (if you delete or overwrite something, it's not always completely removed from your hard drive, it often happens that the memory locations are just "marked" as empty,. but the data itself is not yet erased, and it will be overwritten only after something else needs that space) Also, word sometimes saves backups, look for a (possibly invisible) file with a "~" symbol before (or after? - I don't use msword anymore) its name.
    – vsz
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 6:39
  • 4
    For the next time: Backups, backups, backups. And for the love of God, don't under any circumstances put 628 pages of text in a single Word document. Word is far too fragile for that. Create a new file for each chapter, instead. Consider switching to an application that does not destroy the undo buffer on autosave (which is an appalling design decision).
    – Hobbes
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 14:23
  • 2
    Borrow from us geeks and developers and use a version control system. A simple private project on github, you can have local versioning and then push to server for off site backup as often as you like.
    – ivanivan
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 14:43
  • 2
    I use google drive because it's linked to my email and very efficient to use. However, if you ever write a long long story/writing piece, remember to create many backups, especially if (I'm assuming) you want to use it for something important. Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 16:55

5 Answers 5


Forget your story for a moment and revel in how this loss makes you feel. A loss of treasured words is a pain which every writer eventually encounters. It is agony, but it is also an opportunity. In this moment, while sadness, anger and self-reproach are burning within you, put pen to paper and capture how you feel. Use first person perspective and go deep. Write from the gut.

When the fires cool, look over what you've created and compare it to your regular style. There will be moments in future stories, when you want to make your readers feel like you feel right now. This is your opportunity to learn how to do it.

Now back to your question...

Unless you normally write against a detailed outline, I would discourage using a "new-to-you" outlining technique to give your rewrite efforts structure. Plotting/Outlining writers develop a specific set of writing skills which help them follow pre-existing writing plans. Free-form writers develop an equal yet different set of skills. If outlines are not part of your normal way of writing, then trying to use them now, while you are upset over the lost work, could seriously disrupt your writing flow and diminish (or even jeopardize) the final work.

You have successfully created 700+ pages using your current preferred writing techniques. Whatever those techniques are, they are working for you. Just Keep using them.

Read through the last few pages of your most recent backup, to remind yourself of where you need to pick up the story. Then get back to writing from that plot point. Where you go from there may not be identical to what you created earlier, but there is no reason to believe it will suffer from the rewriting. In all likelihood, your new words will affect the story deeply, enriching and enhancing it in currently unexpected ways.

There is nothing wrong with rewriting a hundred pages. That is an event which happens regularly during the edit phase of any novel's gestation. Replacing words is part of what we do. New words are always waiting to join the page. Have faith in them, that they will serve your story as well as their fallen comrades did before.

Keep Writing!

  • Considering what I am putting my character through (shot, drugged, pistol whipped) my current mindset might align more deeply with his when he is compelled to surrender after fleeing through the woods wounded.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 17:12

The French Revolution: A History, by Thomas Carlyle, was a completed draft (at least, volume 1 was) when his friend's maid mistakenly burned the manuscript. Carlyle completely rewrote the book. It (the re-written book) made his reputation.

Okay, so maybe Carlyle isn't as well known as he was 100 years ago, but the lesson stands. If you have the energy to rewrite, it's quite possible that your second version of the lost text will be better. You've figured a bunch out, about action, characters, plotting... Now just [re]write!

Or, if you're utterly depressed over the loss, you could set aside that work, write something else, and maybe come back to your current project later. However you rewrite (following an outline of what was lost, or asking yourself it there's a better direction to take the story in), make this an opportunity to make your creation even richer.


There are two approaches to revision:

  • revising, i.e. "polishing" what you have written

  • rewriting, i.e. putting what you have written away and writing your story from scratch a second time

One American popular fiction writer whose name I forget claimed in his book on how to write novels that on average he rewrote each of his novels seven times. His mantra was:

Writing is rewriting

So this is your chance to try this approach.


There is a French expression saying that when you fall from a horse, you'd better get back on it soon. Because after some time you may fear of what will happen if you mount the horse again, and may not do it anymore ;

Indeed, if you let time happening, you will also feel like a burden to begin 100 pages behind.

Jump on writing while it's still fresh in your mind.

And the most important in this event is not that you lost 100 pages, but what will you do to not let this happen again?

Program some automatic backup, put reminders to copy your work in your Dropbox, etc.

  • That is more of an equestrian saying. I have heard it and said it for decades. I have also said ‘you haven’t ridden until you have fallen off’ though that does not apply here.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 23:39

This is a non-literary, non-writing answer. If you really want to recover the original, do as little as possible on your computer, and use what activity you do perform to download a file recovery tool. When you delete a file in MS-DOS, the only thing that happens is that the file name in the directory replaces the first character with a special, non-printable character. That's it. All subsequent file writes look in the directory and determine that the file has been deleted, so they use that disk space as they wish. Until another file overwrites the original, it is perfectly recoverable. How long it will take until this happens is a much more complicated subject.

And yeah, in the future you should make backups regularly. No matter how much of a pain in the butt it seems.

  • It wasn’t on a Windows computer but an iPad. A cousin of mine who is in IT told me it is gone. I fear he is right.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 23:09

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