Thoughts from a testing lab


I’m working in a testing lab for the next two weeks, overseeing the testing computers and resetting them when they go wrong (which they do several times each hour.) For example, a student called me over a few minutes ago to look at his screen. There was an equation to solve, and the five possible answers he could choose were:

a. 1 2/3
b. 1 2/3
c. 1 2/3
d. 1 2/3
e. 4

After we stopped laughing, I reset the computer and returned to my desk to try and post to Magical Words. I’d been working on a jaunty rant about fanfiction and my thoughts on it…and then I decided it might be a bit reactionary and I didn’t want to upset anyone. At least, not today. (It’s been one of those weeks, and I’m not equipped to argue a point with the sink sponge, much less a real person.) I started to write about how authors sometimes force characters into behaviors that don’t make sense, and how the story will falter. I even had an amusing anecdote to go along with that one. Until I wrote myself into a corner and couldn’t see any other way to finish except by deleting the whole thing. Which I did.  I moved on to why I read a wide variety of genres, except even I got bored with that idea. Delete, delete, delete.

When I first started writing, I used an ancient device known as a typewriter. For you young whippersnappers, this was a machine that looked like a computer keyboard that had eaten too much. You had to roll a single piece of paper onto a roller that held it steady, then hit each key with fervor so that the letter would be firmly printed onto the paper.  It took forever.  When composing a story on a typewriter, I was slow and methodical, because mistakes were the kiss of death.  If I misspelled a word, I had to use White-Out to remove the offending letter, then type the correct one over it.  If I didn’t notice a mistake until the paper had been removed from the machine, you’d have thought the world ended, the way I reacted.  Writing on a word processor is a dream compared to the olden days of typewriters, because you can delete things.

Deleting what you’ve written can be hard.  Sometimes painful, especially if you’ve written something brilliant that still doesn’t fit into the piece you’re constructing. You can always file it away for some future composition, and hope the opportunity to use it arises. But now and then it’s just best to block and delete the whole mess, and start over. The words haven’t gone anywhere. They’re still in your head, waiting to be rearranged into a better order than they were in before. And it wasn’t wasted time, because you learned what wasn’t working and improved the story as a result. Maybe you saved yourself from an argument. Who knows?

My best friend emailed a minute ago, to ask how my day was going. I told her I was trying to come up with something to write about, and she suggested, “Is math a religion?” Well, heck, as well as I understand it, math very well could be the One Great and Sacred Truth. Maybe 1 2/3 is the path to damnation, and 4 the road to enlightenment.

For me, salvation came along with the delete key.  😀


9 comments to Thoughts from a testing lab

  • Guin

    “Is math a religion?”

    Is it bad that my first thought upon reading that question was “42”?

  • I’d say you were nearly all the way to true salvation, dear child. *grin*

  • Lou Berger

    *hands all y’all a towel*

    NOW, we’re square, right?

    Pythagoreanically speaking, of course.



  • *accepts towel gratefully*

    I think if I’d remembered to bring my towel to school this morning, I’d have had a much better day. 😀

  • Hugs, m’dear.
    I giggled all the way through your post. It sounds like my whole week.

    We *must* get together for tea soon. Maybe you can get the Toddly one to provide transportation and I can put a few drops of brandy in the teapot with the leaves.

    Anyone else want to come? Virtually or in reality. I’m ready for a tea party.

  • “Nice house. Good tea.”*

    I’d love to – I think there’s a teacher workday coming up. Or if you want to do late afternoon tea, I’m available then.

    * Anyone who knows the source of that quote gets a cookie!

  • I’d love to be part of a virtual tea party, but I don’t know the quote.

    I HATE deleting stuff that I’ve written. I believe in the old maxim that a writer never throws away anything. I have scraps of stuff all over my computer, and when I’m trying to post and I lose what I’ve written, I unleash a string of curses that would make a sailor blush. When we were in Australia my laptop died and I lost an entire chapter of a book. Or at least I thought I did for about three days. Then I clicked on a file that had been preserved on the hard drive under some filename I didn’t recognize and found my chapter. The computer was never the same, but I got my chapter back and really that was far more important to me.

  • Yes! David I totally understand.
    Kill the PC, just let me keep my files!

  • David said, “When we were in Australia my laptop died and I lost an entire chapter of a book. ”

    A few years ago, I was going to the Harriet Austin conference, at which I had a meeting with the agent Richard Curtis. On the Sunday before we left, I was frantically trying to get more work done. I clicked on “save”…and the entire manuscript vanished. Gone. As if it had never been. I had a previously saved version of course, but I lost about 18 pages.

    It felt like someone had stolen my child.