Wednesday, July 24, 2013

When Your Writing Gets Erased

I recently suffered a loss that is still hard to talk about. One moment, my loved one was there, lively and vibrant. The next, gone forever. It's a pain that you can never really understand until you've experienced it. I'm talking, of course, about a manuscript getting accidentally deleted.

I've lost manuscripts many times over the years. Most of the time, I've lost documents because my hard drive got corrupted or my computer crashed while writing and I forgot to save it. In this case, it was the second draft of my scifi/adventure novel, Operation: Masquerade. I'd finally finished what I considered the final major rewrite and polish, after three months of intense work. I had written new scenes, new characters, removed some major continuity errors, and basically gotten it to where I felt it needed to be. All I needed to do was re-read it one last time to catch any typos and stuff, and it would be ready for release. 

Then I cracked the screen on my laptop. Two-thirds of the screen became unusable. Of course, my biggest concern was the data on the laptop, specifically Operation: Masquerade.  Thanks to my decision to back up my documents on Dropbox, I was more worried about making sure the copy I had was up-to-date. I decided to use the keyboard commands to save it, even though I really couldn't see it. I went to another computer, loaded up Dropbox, and loaded the document. Blank page. Somehow, I had just saved a blank document as the file. It's gone. All gone. I managed to find a copy I'd accidentally saved under the wrong name, so I only have two months of work to recreate instead of three, which is kind of like saying I only had one arm cut off instead of both arms.

I need a break. Operation: Masquerade is going on the back burner for a few months while I work on something new. In the meantime, here's four things you can do to make sure this doesn't happen to you.
  • Save copies somewhere else. Hard drives get corrupted, computers get broken. That's why you should never keep your only copy on one computer's hard drive. Keep a copy on a USB drive or an external hard drive. 
  • Use a cloud-based backup system. I've lost documents on physical media. I lost docs I had saved on CDs that got scratched. I'm old enough to have lost copies on corrupted floppy disks, and ZIP drives. That's why I started backing up my work on Dropbox. Not only does it keep a virtual copy, but it syncs it with all my computers, so I can go seamlessly from my desktop, and my laptop.
  • Make backup copies. I thought I was safe backing up the main copy, but I should have made other copies with different names. One of the first things I did on my desktop after the disaster is set my word processor to make backup copies automatically. Most word processors have this option. Check the help document on your favorite.
  • Print hard copies. I have to admit, the most effective method of saving documents is the print out physical copies. I still have paper manuscripts of documents I wrote that I've long lost the digital versions of. Short of fire, I don't have to worry about suddenly losing those.
Have you ever lost a document? What do you do to make sure it never happens again?

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