Grr and grr again, campers: there I was, minding my own business (and my clients’), when a not-very-computer-savvy friend of mine asks if he can use my computer to transfer the contents of his holiday music collection (immense) to his brand-new iPod. Well, the next thing I know, my computer is in the shop, my friend is begging my forgiveness — and I don’t have access to the blog post I had already written for today!
So I am writing this from elsewhere, on an unfamiliar keyboard, one of those so-called ergonomic jobs that actually encourage nerve problems by providing a wrist rest that more or less requires a bent wrist to use. (Yes, yes, I know: you’re not supposed to rest your wrists on a wrist rest while you’re typing, only in between bursts of literacy. But since I would need to have the chest and arm muscles of Conan the Barbarian to make using this angled keyboard comfortable, I foresee wrist-resting in my future.)
I am writing while I am in a superlately annoyed mood, absolutely the wrong time to give any advice whatsoever to anyone. Except this: make back-ups of your work as frequently as possible.
As in more than once in a blue moon. Since I have a technology-suspicious disposition, I back up my hard drive every other day. My geek friends laugh at me about that, but at times like this, it pays off. (Unfortunately, I hadn’t done a back-up since writing what was supposed to be today’s blog, so it may be gone forever.)
I learned the value of compulsive back-up generation young. When I was in college, my undergraduate thesis advisor was working on his dissertation. Fearful not only of computer malfunction but of fire, earthquake, and civil disaster, he used to present me with a disk containing his latest draft once per week, every time we met.
To be on the ultra-safe side, he asked me to keep each week’s version in my dorm refrigerator, just in case my dorm AND his entire suburb were somehow simultaneously engulfed in flames that miraculously spared both of our lives. “The insides of refrigerators seldom burn,” he explained, “unless someone opens them during the conflagration.”
So remember that: if you want to keep your milk and Chinese takeout leftovers safe from fire, don’t snack until after the firefighters have finished dousing things.
Even though I did, in fact, keep his work in my tiny fridge, I used to smile secretly at the intensity of his fear that his work would disappear. Until I was in graduate school myself, and I was approached by a knife-weilding mugger on my way home from the library. “Give me your backpack,” he advised, none too gently.
“No,” I said, astonishing myself. I then explained at great length that I had a draft of my master’s thesis in my bag, and that it was positively covered with hand-written notes and footnotes-to-be that I had not yet entered into my soft copy. It would take me weeks to recreate all of that material. Would he accept the contents of my wallet instead? What if I made the cash my gift to him, a little token of my thanks for leaving my thesis intact, and didn’t file a police report?
The mugger, who apparently had never attempted a major writing project, was quite astonished by my vehemence; I gather he thought I simply did not understand the situation. He reminded me several times throughout that he could, in fact, kill me with the knife clutched in his hand, and that only a crazy person would risk her life for a bunch of paper.
But tell me: if you were holding the only extant copy of your book, would you have been similarly crazed?
The story ended happily: I ended up with both a whole skin and my draft. And to tell you the truth, I no longer remember if he got my money or not. (I do, however, remember him asking me to stop telling him about the argument in my thesis — I had become embroiled in an especially juicy part of Chapter Two — and admitting that he would, in fact, just be dumping the manuscript into the nearest trash can rather than turning it in for credit.)
I back up onto CDs these days, having become disillusioned with the stability of Zip disks, but many writers prefer an off-site back-up method, such as saving to storage space online (check with your internet provider). My brilliant friend Phoebe has an even more convenient method: she e-mails copies of her works-in-progress to herself as attachments, effectively making her ISP her offsite storage space.
Whatever method you choose, it’s a good idea to save both before and after copies of revised manuscripts. Yes, it takes up space, but as most of us who have lived through serious revisions, it’s not all that uncommon to decide a week, month, or year down the line that a cut scene is necessary to the work.
Off to count the hours until my beloved computer returns to me, hale and hearty again. Make some back-ups, and keep up the good work!