by Rob Gregory Browne
Stop reading this post right now.
I mean it.
Okay—wait, not yet. Because I have something important to tell you before you do. I want you to learn from my mistake, you see. I want you to understand what I went through one panic-filled day not long ago, in hopes that you won’t ever in your sweet life have to go through it yourselves.
So don’t stop just yet. But when I’m done here, you’d better do exactly what I’ve told you. Because you may not get a second chance.
He’s being cryptic again. I friggin’ hate it when he’s cryptic.
Here’s the story:
It started on a nice summer morning. The air was chilly, but not cold, at least where I live. I sat down to work on my latest manuscript—which I’d made significant progress on—and when I opened the file…
…it was blank.
Wait a minute—did he say blank??
Yes, you read that right.
Completely, utterly blank.
Now, I have no idea how the hell it got that way. It wasn’t as if I’d gotten drunk and erased the entire manuscript before saving it. I can only assume it was a glitch in the software that somehow corrupted the file and wiped away every single word I had spent god knows how long writing.
I didn’t panic, however. Because, hey, I’m not stupid or crazy. I always back up my files. I was using something called Windows Live Sync, which is a great little free program that uses the Internet to sync whatever files you choose to all of your computers.
I have five computers and at least three going at any given time, and they had all been set up with Windows Live Sync—even my Mac. So that’s a good thing, right?
Well, not really.
See, the thing synchronizes your files every time you change them. So when whatever happened happened, rendering my manuscript blank, the blank copy was synchronized and every single computer had that same corrupted file.
But it still wasn’t time to panic. Because, folks, I really do have a brain, and I also used another backup system called Mozy.
Mozy backs up any files you choose to their online servers. It’s a free service up to 2 gigabytes of data, and I highly recommend them.
I set Mozy up to only do backups when I told it to. And apparently I told it to backup the file right after it got corrupted.
So guess what? The file I restored was… you guess it—
This is around about the time that tiny little knot in my stomach became a giant fucking lump in my throat. Because, folks, I had just lost a crapload of work.
Many thousands of words.
Gone. Completely. Vanished.
And I did not, did not, did not—oh my FUCKING GOD—have a back up.
What I had was a blank screen. A very, very blank screen. And the moment I realized I now had to start writing my book over—completely from scratch—I thought I would cry.
Did I make that clear? COMPLETELY FROM SCRATCH.
Now I know I’m blaming computer error here. Because, after all, I had backed up to the cloud and to all of my computers. I did what I was supposed to do.
But the one thing I hadn’t done that I always do, is email myself a copy. I don’t know why I didn’t, but I didn’t. And if I had, I would have had my manuscript back. Simple as that.
But my manuscript was gone. Along with all of the great scenes I’d written. All the the brilliant scenes and pithy dialogue (see, I could think that because I couldn’t read the thing to find out if I was deluding myself).
So now my job was to start at the beginning and see if I could recreate the magic.
A word of advice: never try to recreate the magic. Never sit there and try to remember all the witty shit you wrote, because you won’t remember it, or even if you do, it won’t be quite the same, have that same snap. It’ll just lay there on the page looking like the stalest, most awful crap you’ve ever in your life written.
Because you can’t recreate the magic. At least I can’t. Your mileage may vary.
I worked a full eight hours and guess how much I managed to write?
Two paragraphs. Two really lousy paragraphs.
Needless to say, I was feeling a little depressed. And I seriously considered just giving up on the book, because…
Why oh why didn’t I email myself a copy? Why why why????
I got all kinds of sympathy from my friends. And I appreciated that. I got people telling me they were horrified when they heard what happened and I’m not surprised. Because what happened to me is, frankly, every writer’s nightmare.
In addition to writing those two lousy paragraphs, I also spent the day running hard disk restoration software, scouring my hard drives looking for remnants of the erased file. I was ready to pay a lot of money to purchase that software if it actually found anything. But it didn’t. Neither did the other demo I tried.
I had to finally face facts that the file was gone and gone forever. So back to those two lonely paragraphs I went.
But then, late that night, I thought, why don’t I go back to Mozy and try to restore one more time. This time I decided not to restore on my desktop. I went directly to my login on their site to see if I could restore it there. Chances were pretty good that it would be the same blank file, but I figured one last try wouldn’t hurt.
I then learned something about Mozy that I hadn’t realized. Not only do they back up your files, they don’t overwrite the previous day’s copy. And there, sitting on their server, was a copy of my manuscript which I had backed up the morning before!
Oh my God. I couldn’t believe it. I quickly restored the thing, opened it up and lo and behold, I’d only lost the previous day’s work—seventeen pages.
Any other time I would have been very depressed about losing so many pages, but when I saw that decidedly not blank file, I started jumping for joy. Literally.
Okay. So now we get to the lecture part of this post:
Always back up your files. Don’t rely on your memory to do it, make sure you have an automated system. Make sure you not only back up to another drive, but another computer, a thumb drive, an online server, two or three different online servers.
Because you can never have enough backups. And to avoid what I went through with all of the back ups I had, make sure you use software that creates a new dated and timed copy every time it runs a task. You may wind up with hundreds of copies of your manuscript, but believe me, that’s better than none.
Here’s what I now use, all which are FREE:
1. JaBack. A brilliant piece of software that allows you to create thousands of tasks and run them automatically. JaBack sends date/timed copies of my manuscript every hour into—
2. My Dropbox folder (thank you, Toni). Dropbox regularly backs up all of those copies to its server and shares them with my other computers. I also use—
3. Mozy, as mentioned above. Mozy does its thing a couple times a day. And—
4. Since I’m extremely paranoid, I also use SpiderOak, another online service, and—
5. I still email myself a copy every day. I created a special macro for my word processor that I simply have to click and it sends my manuscript as an attachment to my google account. I use gmail because it stores all of those attachments on its server and not on my computer.
I think I’m pretty safe now. The worst that could happen is that I lose a day’s work again, but it doesn’t seem likely.
Okay. If you made it this far, it’s time for you to go now and start backing up your data. Don’t put it off until later. Do it NOW. Seriously.
Because the last thing you want to find yourself facing is a blank page.
In today’s comment section (come back after you’ve done your thing): Tell us all about your data disaster!