Care and feeding of your backups

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Last April I wrote the first draft of a story called "Care and Feeding of Your Piano." It's a short, humorous piece written entirely as excerpts from the interactive instruction manual for a bioengineered piano*.

Armed with some suggestions from my writing group, I sat in my Baltimore-area hotel room a month and a half later and spent two hours applying some heavy revisions to the sucker, which including reordering many chunks of text to achieve more comic juxtapositions. I sync'd the laptop with the USB memory stick I always carried as backup—at least, I presume I did, because that had long been my habit—then rushed over to Balticon for my scheduled reading. I read that story and one called "Timesink" (which was then and is still forthcoming in Electric Velocipede) directly from my computer screen. The reading seemed to go over pretty well, at least according to Jamie Rubin, who was there.

In June, as I prepared to attend the Blue Heaven workshop, I got frustrated with all the cruft slowing down my laptop, so I wiped it and reinstalled Windows XP. At the end of that month, we moved to Chicago. As we unpacked, I became more and more uneasy the longer my black Manhattan Portage shoulder bag, which I was looking for, failed to turn up. I always carried my USB memory stick in a little Velcro'd pocket on the front of it. The shoulder bag has never turned up, one of the very few casualties of our move.

It wasn't until we'd been here a month or more that I went to the desktop machine to take another look at my revised version of "Care and Feeding." I was going to give it a quick polish-and-trim and get it out there—first stop, New Yorker "Shouts & Murmurs" submission. (Why not, right?)

But what appeared before my eyes was not my lovely revised version of the story but my first draft. Apparently, in all the excitement of preparing for the move, I had never sync'd the memory stick to my desktop machine. Fine, I figured, I'll just have to get it off the laptop.

But it wasn't there either. That's when I remembered I had wiped the machine in June, and the story directory there was identical to the one on the desktop machine. With mounting horror, I tried a couple of different low-level scans on the laptop, but to no avail. The revised draft was gone.

It took me about another six months to work up the energy to tackle re-revising my first draft. That's what I did Sunday, taking a break from the minor revisions to The Accidental Terrorist that are my focus here for the next week or so. It took me all day to achieve what felt like a reasonably successful recreation of what I did in that Baltimore hotel room, far longer than those original revisions had taken. At the end of the day, I printed out the story and read it aloud to Laura while she cooked.

I made some notes on the manuscript as I read, as I usually do. Yesterday I went to the desktop machine to pull up the story and fix the elements I'd noted. What appeared before me was the original, untouched first draft. I was puzzled. I clearly recalled syncing the laptop to the desktop machine after printing the manuscript the day before, but perhaps I had goofed something up.

I turned on the laptop, which is where I had done the revisions. I brought up the story. I felt a knot in my stomach at the realization that this, too, was the original draft.

I had sync'd the wrong way, overwriting my revised draft with the original. I swear, something in my subconscious is out to get this story.

At least this time I have a printout of what I did. All I need to do is type it back in. (No scanner here for an OCR shortcut.) Of course, all the stalling blogging I've done so far today will demonstrate how mountainous even that simple task seems to me right now.

I remember reading recently how Stephen King has lost a couple of partial novel manuscripts without a trace, so I don't feel like quite the dumbass I might. Anyone have a similar tale of woe?


* The Maedong & Daughters pNano® cG Mark VI.2, to be precise, the only autotropic concert grand piano with true Biostatic Action™.

[ original post:  http://shunn.livejournal.com/444680.html ]

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Comments (1)

Sounds like you desperately need to be working on a Mac with Time Machine. Anyway, I hope this story overcomes all the obstacles being flung in its path and gets out. Lord knows we desperately need some new podcasts ;) and this one sounds like it would be really enjoyable.

Now back to my own computer battles: trying to convince Soundtrack Pro that saving my noise reduction edits would be just as easy and take less time than hanging halfway through as it has been so fond of doing recently.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on February 19, 2008 12:08 PM.

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