A to Z CHALLENGE – On Writing – C is for Catastrophe

About halfway through writing my novel Painting by Numbers, I began to develop some peculiar writing rituals and routines, brought on I suppose by the repetitive and somewhat  compulsive nature of the process. Most of my weird behaviours were pretty harmless (give or take the odd vineyard of Rioja), but one habit turned out to be near-catastrophic. I came to rely on one USB to collect and store all my drafts, edits and workings. I began to believe that if I didn’t use this particular memory stick, I wouldn’t be able to move my book forward. I carried the stick around with me everywhere. Once it even survived a full wash cycle and fast spin in the hotpoint. But then, whilst in Spain, researching the book, I stopped in at an internet cafe to check my email and write up some scribbles I’d been working on. Lo and behold, I left my cherished USB in the cafe and didn’t realise until I got back to the hotel. When I returned later that evening, it was, of course gone.

So for the next two or three weeks I scrambled around, frantically re-tracing my writing pawprints, trying to piece together all the work that was missing. Luckily I had some drafts saved on my PC at home, but I must have lost around 50 pages or about 15 – 20,000 words. All in all, I’d say it took me a total of about two months to get back to where I had left my common sense in the internet cafe that afternoon. And even today, I still catch myself searching through files and notebooks, cupboards and drawers looking for those bloody missing drafts.

So the moral of the story is:

Don’t get into bad habits when it comes to saving your work. Copy and save every change you make- I would recommend at least three places . For me it’s my PC, my laptop and a not so obsessively adored memory stick. And just to be sure to be sure, every three months I copy all the data from one memory stick to another.

And yet…  I still can’t help but wonder where that beloved memory stick is now, and if the original drafts and fragments of my story still survive somewhere, in amongst the accumulated rituals of some other writer’s obsessively weird life.

PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE FINALIST – PAINTING BY NUMBERS – a dark, surreal thriller is available in digital and printed formats from Amazon UK/Amazon US and all good online stores

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18 Responses to A to Z CHALLENGE – On Writing – C is for Catastrophe

  1. We’ve all done it, Tom. I know one lady writer who is so terrified of losing her work that she does all the above PLUS emails her work to herself, stores it in dropbox, has various other files on other “holding sites” and then emails them to friends.

  2. three years ago, Tom, I stored everything on hard drive and backed up to a laptop. the hard drive got wiped out and I hadn’t backed up for at least a year. I lost literally, years of work.

    Lesson learned. I now back up to memory sticks, a netbook and a 500GB expansion drive.

  3. I’ve lost stuff in the past and was devastated. I ‘tried’ after that to remember to back up, and used a second hard drive. Sometimes (HA,HA! Senior moments) I get mixed up if I don’t realise I’m saving to the external drive and not the PC, but, since I’ve just added around 10,000 to my WIP these last few days I’m off now to USE that extra storage that I’ve been forgetting to use. It all makes sense – Good reminder, Tom!

  4. Larry Kollar says:

    I’d have had a total meltdown in your shoes, so I don’t let it happen. 😉

    Backups are mostly automatic for me. If I plug in the external hard drive, it automatically starts the backup (and the computer nags me if I haven’t plugged it in for 10 days). When I close a Scrivener project, a script copies the backup file to Dropbox. So I have both local and offsite backups, which is really the way to go for anything you really care about.

    I’ve had USB drives fail, so I don’t trust them as more than a temporary backup.

  5. Glad you didn’t let the near catastrophic failure keep you from finishing the novel. And at least it got you to learn not to rely on a single backup, eh?

  6. Tony Noland says:

    So true. All of my work is on Dropbox. It’s not only distributed in multiple copies, it’s also in the cloud AND it gets backed up to an external HD weekly.

    • Tom Gillespie says:

      you’re speaking in tongues now Tony.. I must drop my box some time.. though I suspect it dropped a few years back.. good advice friend

  7. Helen Howell says:

    I have my backup on at all times on my computer – everything is stored in that. I think I would have freaked out if I had found myself in your situation. But you’re one cool cat!

  8. Anonymous says:

    So unfortunate you lost so much work! At least you managed to revive most of it from the depths of knowledge and notes. It is a wonder where it could be now though, or who may be using it? My worst panic all the time is losing an essay for a piece of uni work, so I save it everywhere I possibly can just to be sure!

  9. Emma L Moore says:

    I have a laptop that is either in a coma or dead. I wish I had backed up everything on it. The thing I regret most is my writings are on it.

  10. Rinelle Grey says:

    Ugh. Nothing is worse than losing words you’ve spent hours working on. Glad you were at least able to find most of them. Think it might be time for me to go and back up my latest novel now.

    Rinelle Grey

  11. You’re not alone Tom! I think you’ re in the best of company lol
    I recently added a Dropbox and have all my writing there – online storage, in the ‘cloud’ it’s the way to go!
    It means I can access it whereever I am too 🙂

  12. DC Lozeau says:

    Here’s another suggestion, Tom. It’s one that I kinda stumbled on and it’s all thanks to a gift I bought my wife for Mother’s Day a couple of years ago. The gift was a Kindle. And since I bought it on Amazon, where I had to create an account, I found out that with the Kindle comes an email on Amazon’s site. So, when I was writing my first book, my wife wanted to read what I had written. Not wanting to print out everything on paper, I tried the Kindle email account. I saved my work in progress, (I use Word) as a .doc file and emailed it to my Kindle account. Lo and behold, the first time my wife connected to wi-fi to the Kindle Store to look for another book to read, MY BOOK, all formatted for Kindle, automatically downloaded to her Kindle. Cover and all!!!

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