PSA: Back Up Your Work
Last week I only wrote a little bit, because I was prepping for a big fat sequence I would eventually take all day Friday to write. It was 5800 words. It was one of those gigs where I finished and thought, “This is possibly one of the best things I’ve ever written.” It was a very intense sex scene, but it also contained a full on BDSM scene written from the perspective of a sadist. I was so proud of those 5800 words.
I very nearly lost them all.
I write in Scrivener for Mac, and I have since Jenny Crusie introduced me to it in about 2005 or 2006–I’ve been writing in Scrivener a long, long time. I also use Time Machine and Dropbox, though I’d only set up TM again after a nine month hiatus after I got a new machine because of a need to move things from an old hard drive which hadn’t happened because of sheer laziness. I’d set it up, though, so I thought I was safe.
Until Sunday, I always kept my recent work in Dropbox. It would save to the Dropbox site and to my computer and my laptop, which seemed like a trifecta of backup. Scrivener also won’t let you open a file if you have it open on another machine. I had every contingency covered, it seemed.
Except for one big thing.
Dropbox hangs for a minute before it syncs when I open the laptop, and since I got the new iMac, the laptop has serious trouble hooking up to the network. It takes upwards of five minutes to load, and Dropbox then gets off its game, because normal laptops would be halfway through the internet while mine is still fucking around trying to find the router it’s ten feet away from. So there’s this pregnant moment where, if you open Scrivener (which defaults to opening up your latest work) before Dropbox syncs, it runs the risk of overwriting your current file with an older file.
Friday night, the same day I’d written the work I was so proud of, this is exactly what I did.
The moment it happened, I kind of knew, but I told myself if I had biffed, I had Time Machine. Except when I went to work on Sunday morning, I found that for no discernible reason, it had not backed up since Thursday. Theoretically it’s supposed to do its work every hour, even if I’m working, but it did not at all. I had no backup. None. Whatever this Time Machine issue is, it’s still happening, because it’s still only occasionally backing up with no pattern and frankly, no justice.
What this meant was that I had lost all my work. All 5800 words.
I flailed around trying to make Time Machine show me the twelve hours of backups it should have done on Friday, tried to dig through every recourse in Dropbox. I communed with my computer in every way possible, and then I began to cry. Not right away–my family tried to talk to me, but I couldn’t, I wouldn’t. Not until I called up Damon, who said, “Is everything okay?” and I said, “no” and started to bawl like a baby.
“Honey, I told you to get a better backup system,” he said, because he had, and I said, “I know” and cried harder. Later Dan asked, hurt, why I hadn’t cried to him, and I couldn’t explain at the time, but I think it was because only Suede knew how badly I had sinned. He’d told me his horror story and how he backs up, but I have this paranoia about opening the wrong file or saving over it, and so I kept to my little pattern that had worked for six years, until it didn’t.
Everyone was so sweet, so good. I found out how many friends I didn’t know I had–my daughter sent me sad little chats (I love you, Mom. I’m so sorry you lost your story.) Dan kept rubbing my shoulder and helped me dig through Dropbox how-tos. Marie sent supportive chats. The whole of the internet social media sent commiserations and offered tips as to maybe find a secret stash. Damon said all the right things about how I’d written it once, it was in me, it couldn’t die, how I’d write it again and it’d be better–different, but even better. I really did think it was gone, because it felt gone, like it had gone to the gods. I even remember feeling a weird (and inappropriate) peace as I’d realized what might have happened on Friday night.
I began to rebuild. I reorganized all my files and pulled everything out of Dropbox that mattered. If I had to leave it in, I made it a duplicate of a copy on my hard drive. I forced Time Machine to backup. I emailed copies to Damon, to myself, to the iCloud. I put a backup in Dropbox. Then I went to Scrivener to stop that auto-open, and to set up the backups again, because apparently they’d turned off, since I didn’t see them in my Dropbox anymore.
That was when the magic happened. That was when I found out how wonderful Scrivener is, how they have saved my ass, and when I decided I was giving a huge on-my-knees thanks to them in the acknowledgments. Because when I went to the backup settings, I found out they’d been backing up for me after all–and they’d moved them to a secret file in my Library.
Breathless, afraid to hope, I went to the Library. I saw, as the last file about to go away, a Friday afternoon copy of BTL. I opened it—and saw my missing 5800 words.
I shouted. I cried again, and with shaking hands I saved it in six different places. I emailed it to myself. I called Damon back, and he said before anything else, “EMAIL IT TO ME RIGHT NOW,” and I did. Because why not have seven backup copies.
It took me until last night to be able to write in the file again, in fact, to write at all. I had a huge headache all day Sunday, and even though I had the file back, I felt wrecked. I still twitch when I open the file. I’m having to walk through work like I’m going through a pile of corpses, even though everything’s fine. I still fear I’ll overwrite something by accident, but I “save as” at the end of every writing session and give it a new name, so now I’ll have literally sixty copies of the file before I finish. And two hundred if you count the backups. Because I turned on the feature to save all Scriv backups in that library, I save to Dropbox, I email it into various boxes, and I’m looking into more reliable online backup with tech support (still haven’t received any feedback from Dropbox). I’m remembering now why I was so reluctant to “save as” with a new version: for a period of time around 2010, Scrivener took away that button, and you had to duplicate and rename the file. I always feared I’d fuck it up, so I moved to the Dropbox method. The downside is I’m going to have to be more deliberate about moving and fetching my files between my iMac and laptop, which is a huge pain, but I’d rather not be able to work sometime because I forgot to transfer an update than to lose my work entirely.
So, this Mercury Retrograde, go back up your stuff. Get a system if you don’t have one, and if you have one, double check it. Let me be your horrible warning so that you never, ever have to feel what I felt on Sunday morning. Back up your work. Back it up, back it up, back it up.
(I’ve listened to too much JLo, and it’s killing me to not add, “like a Tonka truck” after “back it up.” See below to understand why.)