Part of my story as a novelist goes like this: It was the winter of 2008. At least I think it was 2008—my memory and sense of time passing has been going lately, so let’s just assume I know what year it was. It was the winter of 2008 (probably). I’d written a quick-and-dirty draft of a novel during November, my first-ever attempt at NaNoWriMo, and I didn’t “win,” and I didn’t like the experience because I’m a revise-as-I-go kind of writer, but it wasn’t a complete waste because I had about 200, 220 pages. Sure, I found those rough pages shameful. Still I had a draft. A physical something. A start.
Then my laptop died. The hard-drive turned on itself and ate its own head. All data was lost and not even the angels of Tekserve (an Apple specialist computer shop in New York City, known for data recovery) could recover it.
I lost the draft.
But the good news is I would then go on to completely rewrite the book from scratch and that book turned into Imaginary Girls, and while I’m sure losing the first ugly draft was all for the best, creatively, it was still a painful way to get some good words down, you know?
I lost other pieces of writing in that hard-drive crash, too.
Not to mention photos, songs, diary entries, notes to myself, stuff. Lots of stuff. I lost A LOT.
Because I hadn’t been backing up very often.
You’d think a writer such as myself would learn a lesson from the Terrible Winter of 2008: The lesson that computers are flimsy things that cannot be relied on. The lesson that you can count only on yourself, if your self is smart enough to back your shit up.
Well, since the big crash in the winter of 2008, I went through a whole other laptop. (Which died and is a whole other story.) Now I’m on another new one, a shiny new Macbook Air that is less than a year old.
This shiny, new, practically perfect Macbook Air that is less than a year old died on me a week ago today.
It froze while I was reading an article on the New York Times website, and with that, in a blink, it was dead.
That morning—after a visit to the Apple Store, then to Tekserve (because the Apple Store won’t even attempt to try to recover your data), I learned that the hard drive and had turned on itself and melted to oblivion and was gone to the world. Gone.
The replacement would be covered by warranty, as the laptop is so new. And the tech at the Apple Store, and the tech at Tekserve, they both said to me, “But you’ve been backing up, right?”
Because I remembered that I hadn’t been backing up as regularly as I’d meant to.
Because I’d gotten comfortable.
I’d gotten too trusting.
I thought for sure a bad hard-drive crash like the one in the winter of 2008 would not happen to me a second time… surely.
I thought Apple wouldn’t make a laptop so defective that it would die so horribly less than a year after I bought it.
I was dead wrong. And the writing I lost will be gone to me forever.
And the people who said, “Don’t you have Dropbox?” made me want to hurt them. (Because, yes, I do have Dropbox, but, no, it wasn’t set up to automatically back up for me.)
And the people who said, “Blah blah I back up every day” made me want to scream. (Because I used to do that and lately I’d been forgetting.)
And the person who did not back up every single day (me) is the person I am most angry at.
Here is what I learned from losing yet another hard-drive:
- Never get comfortable. Assume your laptop could break tomorrow. Could break in the next five minutes. Back up every chance you get, like a paranoid backup fiend. Do not trust anyone—least of all a soulless machine.
- Do not expect sympathy if you lose your writing because you were not backing up every day. No one cares as much as you do. No one but you even knows what you lost.
- Tell yourself the writing you lost was needing to be lost in order to become what it was truly meant to be. And prove it, by writing up a storm. Prove it by being better than you ever thought you could be.
- Sometimes there is joy in writing from memory. It’s even better than it was before, I know it. (And don’t let your doubts tell you different.)
- Oh, and buy a Time Capsule or sign up for some kind of automatic backup service if you’re okay with your files being out in a cloud somewhere. Now I am backed up every hour on the hour, when I’m connected to home wifi, so I can do an easy Time Machine restore if (face it: when) this ever happens again. Plus yes, yes, I know: Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox.
None of this is news. It was only a hiccup. A setback. And now I’m off and running and I’ll get everything back that I lost, everything and more.
PSA: Have you backed up your writing today?