It’s a shiny new year, and we’re all busy trying to get ourselves into good habits. Some folks may have received new computers on which they are now typing that soon-to-be-award-winning manuscript. With that in mind, I wanted to mention that while everyone’s process is different, there is one hard and fast rule that every writer should follow when working on a computer. Back it up every time.
I know this seems obvious, but we forget. Maybe it’s late and we’re exhausted, so we shut down the word processor and stumble off to bed without thinking about it. Or we think we don’t need to back it up more than once a week/month/quarter. I learned the lesson the hard way. Long ago, I was preparing to attend a prestigious writer’s conference, at which I had the chance to meet privately with a very well-known and influential literary agent. I was beside myself with excitement. My manuscript was mere pages from completion, and by the time the agent saw my pages and decided he liked my book, I’d be able to send it to him. My dream was about to come true, I just knew it. I’d packed and repacked my suitcase, planning every thread of what I’d wear in order to make the best possible impression. I was barely sleeping from the excitement. And of course I’d tweaked the three chapters I’d chosen to share with him until they fairly gleamed, and I planned to print them out the day before we left, so they’d be crisp and clean.
On the Sunday evening prior to our leaving on Thursday, I was sitting in my living room, having just finished writing a ten page chapter (it had been a productive day!) Friends showed up at the door, so I decided to save my work and close down the laptop while we were visiting. I moved the cursor to the ‘save’ button, and clicked. And everything vanished.
I sat still, not sure what to do next, afraid to move for fear something worse might happen. Every other time I’d saved a document, it hadn’t disappeared. This couldn’t be a good thing, could it? I searched in my documents file, but the manuscript wasn’t there. Not only had the copy I was working on evaporated like fog in the sunshine, but the saved copy was gone. It was as if I’d never written a single word. My husband and my friends tried different methods to recover the document, but it was not to be found. “Did you save it onto a disc?” someone asked.
Suddenly I couldn’t remember the last time I’d saved onto the floppy (I told you this was a long time ago!) In a panic, I ransacked my desk to find it, shoved it into the drive and opened the document. I hadn’t saved in nearly a month. All the tweaking of the chapters, all the new work I’d completed….all gone.
That afternoon ranks up there with the top five worst days of my life, I think. I was happy, of course, that the majority of my story still existed somewhere, but it broke my heart to lose all the work I’d done. If you’ve ever had this happen, you probably know the feeling of that was the best writing I ever did, and now it’s gone!! You never want to feel that way, trust me. All these years later I still worry that the chapter I lost was pure magnificence, and might have made the difference between a sale and a rejection.
These days, of course, saving off-site is simple. Very few people use floppies, since very few computers have floppy drives. The popular choice is the flash drive, which can be carried in a pocket. If you don’t care for saving your work to an object, there are a couple of options. My favorite is saving my work in Gmail. When I’m finished for the night, I save the file, then send it to myself as an attachment. Gmail allows the user to create folders, so I have one named ‘Work’ that holds all the manuscripts. As long as I have access to my Gmail, I can find my work. It’s been a lifesaver more than once. I was at work one day when my agent emailed – she needed me to send the most recent rewrite to her immediately. In the past I would have had to wait until I got home from work to accomodate her, and that might have been too late. Because I had everything saved in Gmail, I was able to pull it up and send it within minutes.
Another useful tool I’ve discovered is Writeboard. Originally designed for corporate documents, Writeboard is a great way to save documents online. The advantage to this is the ability to edit and write on the document without opening it in a word processor. This allows me to *drops voice to a whisper* write while I’m at work.
The point is, your words are valuable. You don’t want to lose them unless you’re doing the deleting yourself. So while you’re doing your research and planning, while you’re figuring out what drives your characters, get into the habit of backing up every time. You might be glad of it someday.