A Cautionary Tale…

Several years ago, I was just a writer. I wrote what I felt like writing, and had penned at that point, two complete 97K novels plus two additional novels in progress. I was happy to write as the mood struck, and after completing the first two the two WIPs grew in fits and starts. It kept my mind off the usual business-related stresses and panics.

Then I started thinking about publishing.

The first book became my obsessive focus, editing until I had literally worn out the keys on two keyboards! Then there was refining the pitch, researching agents and small press publishers, and so forth. I learned a lot over the 6 years I was thus engaged, but what I didn’t really do, was work on the WIPs much. Especially number four. Conceptually, it was a greater reach, but the writing showed a lot more maturity. Of all my work, up to that point, I secretly believed it had the most market potential.

But, in light of my efforts in bringing Novel Number One to market, I set it aside to wait.

The fifth year, 2008, of my publishing endeavor, I had two catastrophic equipment failures. First, my desktop computer system lost a power supply, but when the replacement one was installed, it had an internal flaw, which melted the motherboard, and smoked every component hooked up to it, including the hard drives.

I had a regular back-up regimen well established, plus I always synched files to my laptop as well, plus making copies of all books on flash media cards. Then after resurrecting my desktop machine with a complete re-build, I restored my files and went on as if nothing terrible had happened. But, in those few months, before the laptop also failed utterly, I let a level of stupid complacency begin to set in.

I still made back-ups, but not so often and I decided that burning CD-ROMs was too slow. I stopped doing the flash media backups at some point. I’m not sure why – it just evolved. The day my laptop died – again, an actual hardware failure, I was so angry at the builder, ACER, that my venom took control of my thinking for enough time to hide potential issues. The old laptop literally went into a dumpster – with gusto! My ears greedily ate up the crunching, shattering sounds as it hit the steel floor.

I loaded everything on the new laptop and got on with it, but of course, never checked as to the existence of older backups of my WIPs No. 3 and No. 4. This is forwarning. I neglected to give it a thought.

After a few good months, I had a dream which gave me the idea for the plot twist I’d been vainly trying to find for WIP No. 3, and took a few weeks to add chapters and edit those I had already written – it was shaping up nicely. It took my concentration away from Novels 1 and 2 for a while, but soon, I was releasing Novel 1 to the publisher, and wanted to take advantage of my perceived readership’s attention span, so I began into more work on Novel 2 to ready it for a 2010 Summer publish date.

Now bear in mind, I must also work at my day job in the hopes of making a living, so I was pretty well occupied.

Last week, after another expository dream, I decided it was time to add some chapters to Novel 4. My favorite one – remember? I remembered the chapter count had been up to ten or eleven when I last worked on it, or maybe it was fourteen. As it turns out, I’ll never know, because it is gone. Nothing remains of either the old, hard-copy backups, or anything on any hard drive, including the ACER drive removed for just such a reason.

The moral of the story is simple. Don’t take any back-up for granted when it comes to your work. Actively go down the filenames and be sure that everything is there before you abandon a computer or move to a new one. I’ve been at this for many years. My first work computer was a 286 PC machine, back in the 80s, so I thought I knew what I was doing, but clearly I had gotten sloppy and stupid along the way. Don’t trust any machine completely. They are fickle, nasty bitches, who will skewer you if you let them! Back up your backups regularly, and keep them somewhere safe, outside of the box. If you don’t want a complicated backup system, then go out and buy a cheap usb thumb drive and use it every time you write, by saving a copy of the current version and overwriting the previous one.

Now, after beating myself up all week, I’m cautiously approaching this debacle from a new angle. It’s an opportunity. Really. I’ll rewrite it better than it was. Oh, and by the way, I have a really inexpensive bridge I can show you that’s for sale, in Brooklyn. Interested?