Monday, March 26, 2012

Write In Peace: What Happens to Your Work if You Die?

"I shall not die, these seeds I’ve sown will save
My name and reputation from the grave
And men of sense and wisdom will proclaim
When I have gone, my praises and my fame."

These are the last lines of the 11th Century Persian epic poem the Shahnameh written by Ferdowsi. In these four lines the author proclaimed that although his time on this earth was finite, his ideas would live on though his masterpiece. And he was right. The Shahnameh is still required reading for school children in a number of middle eastern countries. Through his writing Ferdowsi achieved what so many men have sought, a form of immortality. 

How many of us write for similar reasons? I get a thrill thinking that some kid 100 years from now might pull an old dog eared paperback of my novel from a used book store shelf.  Or maybe my writing will only live on in my family. Perhaps my great-grandchildren might get a sense of who I am by reading something that I created. I think that most authors hope that some part of them might live on after they're gone through their writing. 

But what if the end comes too soon? I know most folks don't like to ponder their own mortality but we're all going to die whether we think about it or not. So ask yourself, if you died tomorrow, what will happen to your writing? If you've already published every word you've ever written, then you don't have anything to worry about. But for the rest of you, do you know what will happen to the hundreds of hours of work, inspiration, blood, sweat, and tears that you have invested? If not, I have some suggestions.
  1. Take an inventory: I recently went through all of my notebooks, journals, and hard drives to take an inventory of what I've written and I was amazed at some of the projects that have fallen through the cracks over the years. I now have a list of all my projects, some of which I'm very excited to take another stab at.
  2. Consider your legacy: We've all written some gems in our time; stuff that we're proud of and want people to see. Likewise, most of us have some literary skeletons in our closets that should probably be encased in cement and dropped into the sea. Decide what projects you want to be your legacy.
  3. Hard copies and Google Docs: You know what you want to pass on, now you need to get your projects into a form what can survive. I recommend taking a two-pronged approach. First, start a hard copy file. Print out the desired projects and organize them into a 3-ringed binder (or several). Include copies of any notes, sketches, or outlines that you think are pertinent. Once you have your hard copies taken care of, create an online storage area for your chosen projects. I recommend Google Docs. It's easy to sign up for a Google account (if you don't already have one) and upload documents in almost any format. Another possibility is to save all of your work to a zip drive (aka thumb drive) and throw it in your safe, lock box, or bury it in a mason jar in the back yard (ok, probably not that last one).
  4. Make your withes known: The first three steps don't matter if nobody knows about them so tell whoever it is that you think should know. Tell them where the hard copy file is and give them your Google Docs password. Let them know why these stories are important to you and if there are any specific instructions for particular documents. For example, my wife knows that in the event of my untimely demise that she should try to get my current WIP published (or more likely find some other writer to try). Also, put this information into your will if you have one. 
Now I know what your thinking: I don't have the time for this! Well, that's kinda the point. None of us has all the time we want and we never know when our time will run out. Take steps to insure that all your hard work wont be lost if the worst should happen.

Who knows, maybe your great-grandkids will be thankful you did.


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