Digital Writing 101: Save Often And Save Multiple Copies

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Okay, I know this probably seems like common sense, but it bears repeating anyway.  When you’re working on a writing project, especially a large one like a collection of poems or a novel, make sure you save your source material multiple times and in multiple places.  Based on personal experience, this is something that it’s easy to forget or simply brush aside and if you do, it will definitely come back and bite you in the butt.  It’s almost like insurance in that you don’t think about those backup copies until that one day comes when suddenly you need them.  And by that point, it’s way too late if you haven’t been properly maintaining those backups.  Trust me, I know.

I have been working on a project for more than five years now, and I was getting very close to the point where I was ready to hand it over to an editor for final polishing and then publication.  After doing research for nearly two straight years, writing for another two and a half years, and then spending more than six months on proofing, re-writes, and personal edits, I could finally see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  And then the unthinkable happened.  I turned on my computer one evening to get to work writing, and got some strange messages about memory dumps, core dumps, and other things that I didn’t really understand, but I knew weren’t “good.”

I shut the computer down and restarted it through the safe mode option, and ran several scans and repairs that I thought would take care of the problem.  The next time the machine started up, everything ran smoothly and I was able to get into the desktop.  I brushed it off, and went for my master file for my novel.  When I opened that file, though, all that appeared on the screen was a random string of characters and symbols.  I closed the file and tried to open it again with the same result.  I immediately got that sick, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that said something truly terrible was going on—and I was right.

Tucked away in the folder where I had archived all of the various files connected to this particular project was a file called “Decrypt Instructions.TXT” that was repeated in every single folder on my PC.  I took a breath and opened one of the files, and true to form there was a list of instructions on how to “decrypt” my data.  I say my data, though at that point, it truly was no longer mine.  I had been hit with a dreaded ransom-ware virus, and I mean hit hard.  My master file along with all of my research documents, notes, and everything that went with the project I was working on was encrypted.  All of my past files, over six years worth of work including a nearly finished collection of historical poems on Sir Edmund Hillary’s first climb of Everest, were lost as well.

I spent two weeks with an online support technician submitting various error logs, event logs, and other reports from PC cleaning software and services.  After many hours of scans, scrubs, reboots, and more scans, we (he) were finally able to clean the nasty bug off my machine.  However, the data that was lost was still lost.  I had my backup copy, of course, and I popped it in and went to load it, only to realize that my backup hadn’t been backed up in more than three months!!  Somehow in the late night fog after editing, reading, examining beta reader notes, and editing some more I had completely forgotten to slip my thumb drive in and save a recent copy of what was nearly my “final” draft.  In short, I lost almost three months and over a hundred pages of edits and rewrites in one evening.

Since that very sobering incident, I have adopted a practice of saving my work multiple times a day in multiple locations.  I keep a copy on my PC, three separate thumb drives, a removable Terabite drive, an SD card, and a second PC.  Every now and then I’ll email myself a copy also, just so I know there is a copy on a server somewhere outside of my control.  That may seem like overkill, and perhaps it is, but it is comforting overkill all the same.  And, it has definitely come in handy.

I was at work not long ago and had popped one of my various thumb drives into the computer to download and store a particular graphic I thought might come in handy down the road for advertisements or book covers.  Afterward, I had planned to remove the thumb drive and continue with my day, but I got busy and forgot to take it out of the computer.  A co-worker was clearing out an SD card a few hours later, and accidentally erased the wrong “removable storage device” as listed on the display.  Instead of formatting and clearing out the camera card, he actually formatted and deleted my thumb drive.  I lost everything stored on the little 16GB thumb drive, but thankfully, that was only one of many backup devices and I thankfully didn’t lose anything permanently.

The moral of this somewhat tragic story is save often and save in multiple places.  And whatever you do, don’t let your backup copies slide thinking you’ll never use them.  Like insurance, you don’t need your backup copies….until you do.  And then you really need them.

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