How to Avoid A Puke-Making Disaster

I’m pretty savvy with technology.  I had the first computer out of everyone I knew–a for-gosh-sake Commodore 64, complete with printer and floppy disk drive.  I ran a resume service using that computer.  Yeah, really. 

Then I switched to an MS-DOS PC with a whole 20mb on the hard drive!  Ooooh!  I wrote stories using WordStar, and the screen was black with green text.

It’s interesting how computers have come full circle and we’re now back to (mostly) using black screens.  🙂

I’ve remained an advanced user ever since, staying on top of application developments, file management and organization, etc.  But computers, the Internet and apps have become so layered and complex, sometimes things slide past you.

And me.

The thing I missed came around to slap me recently.

It’s pretty hard to lose a file, these days.  Most Microsoft apps will let you auto-save, nearly everyone uses cloud storage, usually synced to the hard drive.  I also do manual back-ups of critical files, dumping copies in sub-folders or onto other hard drives in my PC.

Then, last week, I lost a file.  Worse, the file was my current manuscript, with over 16,000 words completed.  My computer froze so completely, I had to do a hard reboot, and when I tried to open the file, it was corrupted.

I didn’t panic, not straight away.  There are so many belts and braces in place, I knew I’d get it back.

I spent 90 minutes, using every back-up location and every recovery technique I knew. 

No luck. 

I settled for taking a hit:  I would retrieve the most recent auto-recovery file, and no matter how many words I’d written since it had saved, I would consider myself lucky and re-write them.

Microsoft Word didn’t have any auto-recovery files at all.  That was very bad.

So I went online, and researched other recovery techniques, including a very expensive one-time app that swore it could rebuild my wonky file and save the day.

On the very verge of dropping a wad of cash on this app, I paused.  (It was a LOT of money for a one-time save.)  The sample file they gave me, to prove they could recover the file, just didn’t look right. 

By now, two hours had passed and I was starting to sweat.  I was contemplating the awful, awful prospect of having to declare the entire book lost, and having to start again. 

I’ve lost an entire book before.  Way, way back when I had that MS-DOS computer, I accidentally deleted the book.  I remember reaching for the monitor the second I hit “delete”, trying to scoop back the file. 

In those days, there was no recovery.  No auto-backup.  Nothing.  50,000+ words, gone.

I threw up, cried, kicked and screamed.  Then I put some basic work processes in place that would save me from facing that situation ever again, including daily copies to a sub-folder, for “just in case”. 

But I never re-wrote that book.  I just couldn’t face it.

I still do that almost-daily backup.  Only, at the moment, I’m on a 9,000 words/day binge, trying to get ahead of my production schedule.  And I was so busy getting words down on day one of the book, I overlooked that sub-folder copy.

So I was two hours plus into trying to recover the book, and starting to feel sick.  I couldn’t just walk away from the book.  It’s already on pre-order. 

In the far corners of my mind, I let in the first tendrils of the idea that I was probably going to have to re-write it all.  And do it even faster than I was already writing (which is to say, better than my top gear white knuckle speed).

I thought I was being very professional and philosophical about it.  I wasn’t swearing or kicking things in.  But during the lunch meal, I found myself screaming at one of the other writers in our household.  Actual banshee-style shrieking.

Yep, full-on meltdown.

The third writer in the house pushed me away from my desktop and settled in to see what he could do. 

And I paced and watched him repeat everything I had already done.

Then he did something very simple.  He moved over to OneDrive online and checked for auto-recovery files there.  He spends all day working with the cloud files.  He doesn’t sync them to his hard drive at all.  So heading for the cloud itself to check files was a d’uh thing for him.

That was the little thing that had passed me by.

I’ve been using OneDrive to synchronize my desktop and laptop since it was SkyDrive and brand new.  And the app has always approached the synchronization process with the idea that the files on your hard drive are the “master” files (so to speak).   The ones in the cloud were a back-up of the ones on your hard drive.

And Microsoft Word always kept auto-recovery files on the local hard drive, too.

Until recently.

Now, Microsoft considers the cloud stored version of your data to be the “master” version, and everything that gets saved on your hard drive(s) to be just a local copy. 

The switch has been subtle and unannounced, but it affects everything.  It was a natural switch, and probably overdue. 

I was sort-of aware of it from the corner of my eye.  I realized why Microsoft made the switch, when I bought a Surface Book3 laptop, which has a *tiny* hard drive.  Because of the way OneDrive works, there’s no need to keep every single file on my hard drive.  The cloud has the masters and I have the option of just downloading files I need. 

I still keep everything on my desktop PC, because that has mega large hard drives and the space to keep everything on it.  But on my phone and my laptop, I don’t.

What I had NOT realized, with this shift in philosophy, was that Microsoft Word was now also keeping all the autorecovery files on OneDrive. 

And that’s where my writer buddy found my manuscript.  Whole, complete and not a word missing.  Microsoft Word had even snagged the last half-sentence I’d written before the computer froze.

When I realized what had happened, I had another half-meltdown, this one made up of relief and adrenaline overload.

Don’t let this happen to you

If you’ve never lost a book, or part of a book, before, you may be wondering why I’m dedicating a whole post to the story.  Believe me, I want you to go through life never understanding what the fuss is about.

But shit happens.

The loss of time losing a whole book represents is just heartbreaking.  It’s days, weeks, and for some writers, months of work you can’t get back.  And it will put a serious crimp in your production schedule.

Plus, you know even as you start the awful work of re-writing the book that you’ll never get back some of those little turns of phrase and other charming moments and great prose that were in the first version.

I might never have mentioned this, except that recently, BackBlaze put out a post, “Understanding Cloud Backup Vs. Cloud Sync” which provides a far better explanation of backup and synchronizing procedures than I can.

Backing up, synchronizing your data, and having fail-save manual processes in place will save your ass.  It just saved mine, and it’s not the first time.

I use OneDrive, as I’ve already mentioned, as a sychronizing app between my various devices.  But I have also been using BackBlaze for the last five years, and it has also saved my bacon more than once. 

I never did get to the point of searching through my BackBlaze files for the book I thought I had lost, because the backup isn’t instant, the way OneDrive is, and reaching for the BackBlaze copy would have been accepting the loss of a day’s worth of writing.  But I had that option there.

I’ve also rebuilt my desktop PC three or four times, by pulling down my backup files. 

Setting up these processes can be a fuss, to start with.  But it is so worth it.  Think of it as insurance–it’s there when you need it, but most of the time, you barely notice it’s there. 

Don’t wait to be caught by a catastrophic file loss.  You may think your cloud storage is good enough.  It’s probably not.  Read the BackBlaze article, then put a couple more layers of safety in place, so you don’t face what I did.



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