Thursday, March 27, 2008

Now That’s Scary

It’s every writer’s worst nightmare: their precious, hard-wrung words, over which they’ve sweated blood and tears for months and months, gone in the blink of an eye—or rather, in the click of a mouse.

That’s what happened this week to John Connolly. If you’re not familiar with John Connolly, he’s an Irish writer of lyrically beautiful thrillers. If you are familiar with John Connolly, then you’ll probably want to weep when you hear he just zapped the first 30,000 words of his next book into oblivion.

How? He was moving the most recent chapters of his WIP (“The Lovers”) from his laptop to his desktop computer, and accidentally overwrote the original file containing the first section of the book. Click. Gone.

Normally, he backs up his work as he writes. But life has not been normal for John lately. He’s just moved house. He just came back from an extended trip to the States. And, it seems, he does not print out on paper as he writes. So all is truly lost.

We hear these horror stories every so often. A thief who steals both computer and backups. A fire that destroys all. A computer that crashes and can’t be resuscitated. A friend here in New Orleans lost practically an entire manuscript to Katrina’s floodwaters. Time now for us all to take a good, hard look at our own writing/backup practices. I do print out my chapters as I write them; I have never, ever trusted computers, or myself with computers, and I like to hold a manuscript in my hand. But I am still terrible, just terrible, about backing up as I write.

I’ve now set up a separate email account, and hope to get in the habit of emailing myself my output for each day. As for John…he’s called in a computer expert, but the prognosis is not good.

6 comments:

Steve Malley said...

I winced when I first read his post. Like your idea about emailing story drafts, too!

Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, a nightmare. I've lost bits and pieces but never that much. Knock on wood.

liz fenwick said...

I email myself with every other day which limits the damage and back up once a week!

John's case is a nightmare but another writer friend had the same thing and amount lost when the cat stepped on the keyboard!

Lisa said...

The emailing is a good backup strategy. External hard drives are cheap and are also a good method to double back up. I really like saving my work to a little USB thumb drive. The Dickens thing has gotten me into the habit of creating a separate file for each chapter and then copying the finished chapters to the master draft. Like a lot of people, it took a hard drive crash last year to get me into the habit of more diligent backups.

Shauna Roberts said...

I back up every day onto an external hard drive, but that's no protection if there's a fire or something else that takes out my whole office. I used to back up important files on CDs and send a copy to my father and another copy with my husband to his office, but got too lazy. This is a good reminder to have redundant backup systems.

Livia said...

My husband, James Reasoner, lost around 45,000 words when our house burned down this year. He was working in the living room when he smelled smoke. He only had time to grab the dog. He left both his USB jump drives attached to the laptop. House burned to the ground with all our computers. He did rewrite the book, but it took twice as long and he hated the book in the end. It didn't help that the new computer kept erasing the computer and his jump drive making him lose even more pages.

I wasn't home at the time of the fire, so I had my jump drive in my pocket. I'd just finished a book and had turned it in, so I didn't have as much on mine to lose. I did have a few photos those have become my prized possessions.

We have started emailing to a web based email address, too. This keeps records somewhere other than the computer. Also James no longer puts both jump drives on the computer at the same time. One stays in his pocket at all times. You never know when you'll have to run for your life, and with the wildfire that took our house, that is exactly what he had to do.

I wish I'd make copies of everything on my computers and left copies at relatives. Hindsight it'll drive you crazy.