“Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.”
—F Scott Fitzgerald
A friend of mine nearly lost ten days worth of writing this week when his computer crashed and took the latest back-up with it. In the end his work was saved by extracting the hard drive, but the computer was beyond rescue.
If you’ve payed attention on here you may know that I am all too familiar with that deepest circle of digital hell into which malfunctioning computers can bring us. I wasn’t as lucky as my friend. Not only was my computer beyond rescue, it took the entire back up drive with it. Over three hundred poems, thirty short stories, the first draft of a novel and several works-in-progress had been turned into unintelligible strings of random letters, symbols and numbers – the occasional recognizable word thrown in for good measure. As if to remind me of what I’d lost. To add insult to injury I then lost a notebook containing eight short story manuscripts.
I was devastated.
For years after that I did not write any prose or poetry worth mentioning. At best I managed repetitive journal-like entries, character descriptions, and snippets of story ideas. I knew I had most of the poetry and a lot of the short stories in my notebooks, at various stages of completion. It would be easy to just open the books and turn them into finished works again. But I waited.
Slowly I began writing again, jotting down first drafts in long hand and noting down story ideas and even some outlines, but I refrained from typing them into the computer. Years passed – some of what I had written was lost as notebooks disappeared or were damaged – and I starting typing again. Saving things. Completing things. Eventually I decided to make use of all the material I had left from before ‘The Tragedy’. That’s when I came face to face with the magnitude of the lie I had been telling myself.
You see, Dear Reader, what I had recalled as near-complete drafts were barely outlines, what I had thought to be finished stories turned out to be a few hundred words at most, what my memory told me were detailed story ideas often ran no more than a sentence or two. A lot of what I found didn’t even make sense anymore, and some of it was written in a hand I barely recognized now – words, sentences, pages I could only guess at interpreting. A complete outline that I knew was in one of my more recent notebooks was nowhere to be found.
I have spent the past year and a half meticulously going through all of these pages to hunt down the broken, unfinished, stillborn stories hidden within. I’ve marked where everything is, sorted through it all and made decisions on what to salvage and what to leave behind. Only the prose, mind you – I won’t even think about touching the poetry. It’s been painful and I have learned my lesson.
These days I keep between three and seven copies of everything I store digitally: one copy on the stationary computer, one on the laptop, one on a usb stick I carry with me almost everywhere. Each month I also back everything up to an external drive which remains isolated from my other systems when I don’t use it, and anything i finish also ends up in my web mail and other cloud services. Some of it even goes on the removable memory card in my phone. Never again will lose all of my work in one fell swoop.