On Backing Up… wherein I praise my ThinkPad & Scrivener writing software

On Friday I was at the Whatcom YMCA waiting for my daughter to climb the wall. I know, usually children make their parents climb the wall, right? Well. There were a bunch of people there despite the fact that we got there five minutes before the climbing wall opened for Family Climb.

So we got her harness on and then she waited. Climbing the bouldering wall and getting all warmed up. While I waited I found a spot partway up the stairs where I could see her when it came time for her to climb and with a nice space on a girder that abutted the climbing wall for my laptop. I set the laptop on my carrying case and proceeded to read what I had just written on the novella: Toils & Snares and the novel: Straight Into Darkness. Then something happened. The laptop slipped and fell…

Now the “new” laptop is actually a 2009 Lenovo Thinkpad X200 that I picked up used from the Rakuten website for $175 and free shipping. I’m one of those weirdos who actually like the little red cursor button in the middle of the keyboard between the G, H and B keys. I had once owned a 1999 Thinkpad that I bought in 2005, another refurbished model like this one. Both computers were nearly top of the line when they were built so with some extra RAM and an operating system update it works great. And it’s small and lightweight. I bought the docking station with a DVD-RW drive, extra battery charge and an extra large capacity battery. I was all set to write a whole bunch under all sorts of conditions.

Now back to the story at hand. I froze as it slipped from my fingers, closing itself as it passed between the girder and the soft panel on the side of the climbing wall. It clanked into something. From my vantage point I could see nothing. “What was that?” asked one of the Y’s climbing wall crew.

It was a laptop,” I said in a pained voice as I ran down the stairs, “I’m not sure what it is now.”

It had not hit the ground. I could barely see where it had ended up. It had hit the next girder down about a six or seven foot fall! The battey pack was separated from the laptop and I couldn’t reach it easily. “At least I bought it used,” was all I could say in response to the jumble of questions and concern. I managed to twist and gyrate myself around under the girder and retrieve first the battery pack and then the computer. It was dusty, but didn’t seem to be majorly beaten up. Having recently gotten a netbook back from a repair service after it had lost video after a short fall of about 18 inches onto a very thick carpet, also while close, I was fearing the worst.

I pressed the battery pack back in place and returned to my perch, opening up the laptop bag this time so there would be no repeating my computer’s suicidal plunge. I took a deep breath and pressed the power button. It whirred and the archaic green lights came on showing wifi, hard-drive activity and battery power. In a few moments longer than normal, the Windows 7 welcome screen came up. In minutes I had reopened my Scrivener files for both pieces of writing. Despite not hitting back-up in the recent hour, both files contained all the words they had had when it closed itself and plunged straight into darkness. In addition, the spreadsheet file I had created in OpenOffice4 came up in recovery mode with all the numbers of the words I’d just finished.

As someone who has lost an entire chapter of a novel, nearly 4000 words from inadvertently saving the wrong file on top of another file with the same name… Well, I’ve burned myself before. So I take backups seriously. I have a huge collection of jump-drives, utilize GoogleDrive for backups as well as often e-mailing big files to myself. [Oh, excuse me a moment. BRB] {Okay. Just e-mailed both of the backup files to myself.} I’m so paranoid that I’ll lose my stuff I suspect there are sections of my first published novel in existence on some drive somewhere that may have magical words now lost to time because I made too many backups. Since I rarely use an SD card I bought a 16 GB SD card that is set up for automatic backups and also for speeding up computer operations. I discovered that if it is not in the slot, Scrivener will back up to its own backup file. So I’ve now taken to alternating where I save my backups.

The key aspect is setting up the habits. One of the best things you can do is to ALWAYS name a file as soon as you open it, before you write any words. This increases the odds that you may be able to recover the file if there is some sort of catastrophic failure that does not have the happy ending mine did. When the hard-drive died sompletely on the Apple MacBook I was using for final Scrivener output for the All Is Silence HardCover printing, I did lose both the original files and the back-ups. I had not been careful, but I had an extensive collection of PDFs and mobis and epubs and rtf docs that had all the words! So, with a little hard and repetitious work I was able to reproduce the PDF and make the page number adjustments to be able to print the hardcover, though it was most of a month later than planned. So. Back up. Now. Do it. I just hit Ctr-S, did you?

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