Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wake Up!: A Writer's Nightmare Comes True (Almost)

I'm almost ridiculous when it comes to backing up my writing. But I was reminded this week that no matter how careful I think I am, I can do more.

I use a program that automatically syncs all of my writing files between three computers and the Web. That means that, at any given time, all of my precious words are on a desktop, two laptops, and a Web site. Not only that, but I have the files in two folders, all synced. At the same time, my writers group routinely posts our critiques on Google Drive, so my latest changes are all backed up there, mostly in 10-12 page chunks. 

If a hard disk crashes or a computer dies or is stolen, I'm covered. I can get my files from one of the other two computers. If something weird happens, and all three computers are killed by a solar flare or zombie invasion or fry sauce flood or whatever, I can get the files off the Web. Nothing could possibly go wrong.


So last week I go into my files to prepare the next section for my group. I open the directory for my current WIP.

It's empty.

I go to the directories for My two previous manuscripts.


Short stories.




Over ten years of writing, wiped out.

I go to backup directories.

The two older manuscripts are there. The current WIP?

Not a trace.

Somehow, most of my writing files had been deleted, probably when I switched to a new computer at work. At some point in the process of moving files from the old computer to the new one, I think, my writing folder was deleted. Unfortunately in this case, the syncing program worked perfectly. How ever the files were deleted, the empty folders were synced across all systems. That meant they were empty. Everywhere.

Panic sets in. I start figuring out how to reassemble my WIP from the files on Google Drive. It would work, but some sections are missing for weeks when we didn't post, so I need to assess the damage and see what's unrecoverable. I have visions of giving up on this story, which I've been working on for a couple years and am starting to like, because too much is missing, not knowing yet what the damages actually are.

I shoot off an email to tech support for the company whose software does the syncing for me, fully expecting the dreaded "Once it's gone it's gone" return email, then start typing a chapter I have in hard copy but not on Google Drive, just to do something to ward off a total mental collapse.

I check email, figuring it's after hours and I won't hear anything.

I hear something.

Deleted files can be recovered. They sent the instructions. The instructions could be more clear, especially in my frazzled condition. But they work. Shaking and drowning in adrenaline, my brain still in panic mode, I recover my files and immediately copy them into two other directories.

But for a while, I thought I had lost everything I had written, despite my excessive (or so I thought) back up policies.

Seriously. This did not make for an enjoyable evening. It's been several days, and I'm shaking as I write this.

My backup strategies worked this time, but it was a frightening experience that pointed out the drawback of relying on a syncing program like DropBox or Syncplicity: deletions are synced too.

It was a reminder to back up at frequent key times onto a flash drive or disk, and to use backup software that regularly backs up the synced directories to a location that is not synced.

To protect against fire, flood, or aliens, you might want to give backups to somebody in another house, like a trusted writers group member. You might even want to send them to a friend or family member in another location. One flaw in most backup systems is that the backups are usually kept near the computer, and a major disaster that damages everything gets the backups too.
No matter how diligent you are, something could go terribly wrong. And let's face it: many of us would rather lose our skin than the writing we created.

I'm still feeling the shock and pain I felt when it looked like I'd lost everything. When it comes down to it, almost nothing that doesn't breathe would cause me more pain if I lost it. Just about everything else could be replaced. And even some of the things I can't replace are ultimately just stuff. But what I write is more than stuff. And I thought I was going the extra mile to make sure I didn't lose it. Turns out, what I was doing was fine and worked as it should have, so I should feel good about that, but for my peace pf mind, I'm going to add a couple more layers of security.


Anonymous said...

Scott, I am SO happy you still have your work! When you told me what happened to you a few days ago I totally *blanched* because I remembered my analogous experience with electronic music compositions and sound samples.

Something else I would recommend on top of your excellent points is: MAKE A HARD COPY (or two?) and save them in a place other than your home (in case of fire). I couldn't do that with my electronic music, etc., but as a writer you are covered :)


Scott said...

Good point, Harry. And in fact, I was in the process of restoring a section from hard copy when I learned how to undelete from my sync app.

Yamile said...

Phew! I'm so happy you were able to recover everything! I've had a few scares myself, and now i save my work in different places, including dropbox, google drive and icloud. I also email my manuscript to myself after every draft is finished, just in case.

Bruce Luck said...

Yikes, what a scare. I try to back up at least once a month onto external and a thumb drive and haven't for a while. Good reminder. Think I better go do that now.

Tabitha Thompson said...

I used to have SugarSync and loved it. Now I'm thinking I need to update AND put everything on a flash drive ...

Scott said...

Tabitha, I've used FreeFileSync in the past and it worked. Setting it up again now. Here's my plan: Continue to use Syncplicity to sync across computers. Use FreeFileSync to schedule automatic nightly backups to an external hard drive. Post sections to Google Drive for my group, and when I've finished making their changes, move the files to a "Finished" directory on Google Drive, and not delete anything until I have something more recent. And, at key times, backup to a flash drive and DropBox. That should make me feel a little more secure. Overkill? Maybe. But I'm not risking these files.