A Writer’s Nightmare: Back Up Those Files

error-102075_640 pixabayThe morning began rather well. I had plans for the evening so I baked some cookies to take with me. I’d had my coffee and a bite to eat and the cookies were baking in the oven. Time to get to work – my writing work, that is.

The evening before I had turned my computer off, thinking it could use a fresh reboot in the morning. So I pressed the start button and waited. Disaster. I got a message that told me there had been an error in the shut down. The screen that is supposed to explain the specific problem blinked for less than a second before going to the screen that gave me some options: start in safe mode, start in safe mode with networking, start in safe mode with command prompt, and restart Windows normally.

Hey, I thought, no problem. I’ve been here before. All I have to do is “restart Windows normally”. Er, no. It just kept happening over again. After four tries it dawned on me that maybe this wasn’t going so well.

Now you need to understand that computers are not my friends. They don’t like me and the feeling is mutual. They are a necessary evil that I have to cooperate with if I want to continue to be a writer. We have an uneasy truce in which the computer has the upper hand.

So I stared at that screen for a time wondering if I dared to try one of the other options. Which one? Well … I needed to be able to network so the others could not be what I wanted. I chose “safe mode with networking”. This time the response was different. There was an error screen indicating a bad file with an option to try to fix it. Well, duh! I saw my e-mail come up. Problem solved. I am a genius.

For two whole seconds. It crashed again, same message. I tried once more. Not even the “fix file” option this time. Well, I thought, with a glimmer of hope, maybe the file is fixed. If I “Start Windows normally” this time it might work. Nope, just the same screen, with the same options and then, after several seconds, blank. Nada. Zilch. Dead. Beyond resurrection.


Oven timer beeps. Take cookies out of oven. Turn oven off. Cut cookies into bars. Eat two cookies while still hot enough to burn mouth. Deny this is happening. Eat another cookie.


Hubby comes home from an errand.

“My computer won’t come up!! It crashed!”

Hubby knows no more about computers than I do, but he dutifully comes to look at the black screen and asks the usual questions. “Did you?” Yes … yes … yes. I show him each one. “Well I don’t know what to suggest. I guess we’ll have to call Noah.” (our son the IT guy)

“But he’s at work (in Toronto). He won’t have time to help me, not even by remote.”

I call Noah at work and explain what happened.

“Hmmm, sounds like a bit of corrupted memory, or possibly a hardware problem. Bring it to me next weekend and I’ll look at it.”

Next weekend! I freak. Next weekend is ten days away. “I can’t be without it that long. I can’t even write without my MS files. I have a post to write for IU.” Then the worst hit me. “But you can get my files back, right? … Right?

“I don’t know. It depends on the problem. I likely have to rebuild your computer.”

“Maybe I should take it to the local shop.”

“No, wait and let me do it.”

“But I have to work. And my files …”

“I really can’t say about the files.” He doesn’t let me say anything more before adding, “You can use Dad’s laptop in the meantime”.

The laptop has none of my files and has a weird version of e-mail. After two more calls to darling son I realise I can’t use it. But I remember we have an old computer of mine from two years ago and we get it running. Slow … as … mo … las …ses …

But I have e-mail. And, because I saved my current manuscript, minus a couple of chapters, which I had mailed to a friend to critique and were still in my sent mail as attachments, I could continue to write.

I spent the better part of the day reconnecting to all the networking sites I use. Some I had to change passcodes for as I had not remembered them.

I do have all my covers and various versions of my three manuscripts on a memory stick. Those are not lost.

But my files … I have no idea if Noah will be able to retrieve the Word.doc files that include my reviews, blurbs, interviews, shorts, flash pieces, the pages with my links, my bio, – the list goes on. Some I can find somewhere and copy and paste but many I cannot. And those that I can will take detective work to find. It will be time consuming and headache inducing. And I have a ton of pictures of my grandson. Those can be retrieved but it will take work.

My computer is my life. Well, maybe aside from my grandson. I do everything on it short of housework – the mundane stuff. It is what I use to write – not only my books, but all those other things that are in those files that may be lost. I write nothing out longhand. If I had to I would not be a writer. My penmanship is illegible even to me, and I type much faster than I write on paper. I can almost keep up with my thoughts on a keyboard, typos notwithstanding. I can’t do that with a pen. Without my computer I am, quite literally, handicapped – prevented from doing what I do – write. And losing that, even for a short time, is scary – very scary.

So, now I have another week to wait to see if my son can get those precious files back. The suspense is killing me. Have I won the battle – to get back to work – only to lose the war, er files? Is my son the genius I hope he is? Stay tuned – and back up those files, even if you think they aren’t that important.

[You can find information on backing up in articles about Backing Up Your Digital Media  and Dropbox. – The Admins]

Author: Yvonne Hertzberger

Yvonne Hertzberger is a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to Canada in 1950. She is an alumna of The University of Waterloo, with degrees in psychology and Sociology. Her Fantasy trilogy, ‘Earth’s Pendulum’ has been well received. Learn more about Yvonne at her blog and her Amazon author page.

37 thoughts on “A Writer’s Nightmare: Back Up Those Files”

  1. Love Dropbox for back up of some docs (and making them easy to use across multiple systems. However, for full back up, I highly highly highly recommend Backblaze! It’s $50/year/computer and worth every penny! It backs up all your files, not just the ones you put in your Dropbox folder, has no file size limits and no space limit. It has saved my butt more than once, and because its made to be a full system back up, even my gigs and gigs of photos are safe and sound. 🙂

    1. Thanks Anma. My son has re-installed everything and retrieved it all. I bought an automatic external back-up drive and am using that now. As I use a PC and not a laptop that should work well.

  2. Oh boy, I’ve been there, it’s not fun. Now I’m obsessed with putting anything on a flash drive. I’ve probably gone overboard, at least I make sure that I have my writing and jpegs for my books somewhere safe. Check your library to see if they have a lab, you can usually spend as much time as needed provided there isn’t a class. I hope Noah gets it fixed for you, those IT guys are scary with their knowledge. Don’t eat too many PANIC cookies.

    1. Thanks, Aron. I would take classes if I had any aptitude at all for this sort of thing. I don’t. If IQ were measured by computer aptitude I’d be seriously mentally challenged. Instead I gave birth to a son and gave him what I ain’t got. lol

  3. I know how you are feeling, been there, done that! I now have a Seagate hard drive back-up system. I sometimes get slack for a little while but then get a little scare and back-up again. As a fellow technophobe, I can’t recommend the Seagate hard drive enough.

    Great post, Yvonne, and thanks for the reminder; I’ve gone a few days without backing up.

  4. Few things frighten me. I confess to a certain phobia with regard to leeches. And like you Yvonne, I have an uneasy relationship with computers and most things electronic. You have my complete and sincere sympathy.

    I think there is a new emotion, unknown to previous generations – that feeling beyond despair when you press a wrong button, or some circuit self-immolates or by the whim of the silicon gods, your work, your pictures, everything you hold dear, simply vanishes into the aether.

    I still do a lot in longhand, especially notes. I feel my writing is richer and more creative with a pen. Eventually it all comes together at the keyboard, but then I print and revise with the pen. (Yes, I’m responsible for the death of entire forests).

    A similar but less severe experience to yours has made me absolutely paranoid when it come to backups. The stuff that does go into my computer is automatically backed up on our home network drive. That drive has two mirror image hard drives, lest one fail. I also back up my manuscripts and working documents on three memory sticks, one of which lives in my apartment in Toronto in case the house burns down.

    I don’t know anything about the “cloud”. I don’t trust it and don’t use it. But network drives aren’t that expensive and simply plug into your router. I’d also recommend keeping some sort of archive stick in a separate location: the office, a friend’s house, the cottage, someplace it won’t be lost if disaster strikes at home.

    1. John, it sounds like you’re covered, as long as you don’t have a fire at your house. I’m sure you’re way too familiar with what one of those could do. Any backup solution that doesn’t include a copy of your files offsite (on the cloud or possibly an external drive of some kind that gets rotated regularly) has a big hole. You’re protected now from hardware failure, but not from other disasters, fire being the big one, but potentially others (flood, earthquake, tornado, etc).

      The first link at the end of the article talks about the service I use and Anma talks about one she uses in a comment above.

      Thanks for this post, Yvonne. We can’t warn about this too much.

      1. Oops. An apology, John. I just saw where you talked about having a memory stick with a backup in another location. 🙂

  5. Glad you recovered everything.

    I back up regularly multiple times a day, then every day, and every week, than monthly backup. All in automatic on a Time Machine from Apple. I can even boot from it or configure an old or a new Mack with everything that’s been backed up so that the new computer ‘wakes up’ as a mirror of the last backed up environment (everything).

    I made use of the recovery feature a few times and with each time my confidence and peace of mind grows.

  6. Thanks, John. Until this happened I thought I had been vigilant enough about backing things up by having my manuscripts and covers on a memory stick.. I was wrong. There so many small files I use on an ongoing basis that I feared I had lost. Now, thanks to a new external back-up drive that won’t happen again. I do like the idea of having it somewhere outside my home as well. Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. Glad you got everything back, Yvonne. I would have been in full-fledged panic mode. I know a lot of people who back things up online, but I’m too paranoid for that (My husband works in IT security and his belief is that nothing online is really secure.) I save to the hard drive and an external drive, and because someone (Big Al, I think) pointed out if those two devices are together (they are – one on top of the other) and something happens like a fire or a hurricane I’m likely to lose both, I now also save to a thumb drive that I keep in my car.

    1. Thanks, Melinda. I can’t tell you how relieved I am, too.
      I’m with your husband on the security thing, Melinda. And I think I’ll back the rest of my stuff on sticks as well, like I have with my books and covers.

  8. Writer’s nightmare is right. While living in Tucson, lightning from a summer storm hit very close and next time I started up my computer, it said, “operating system not found.” Certain the computer had been completely wiped by the lightning, I took it to my own IT guy at work. Fearing the worst, I was ecstatic when he said everything was there; the lightning strike had just caused the computer to “forget” where it all was. Whew! But I back up religiously now, on various media. You can never back up too much.

  9. Quick suggestion for this sort of issue…

    I back up work to the cloud, instantly, every time I save. I use Dropbox for this – but any cloud based storage would work, and I have used Google Drive just fine too. Neither Drive nor Dropbox cost a dime – it’s free, for a 5GB space, which is WAY more than most writers need for their key files.

    What I do:
    1) Set up my Dropbox/Drive account.
    2) Download the installer. Click it to begin install. This creates a new folder in my computer, called (easily enough) Dropbox or Drive.
    3) Now – once that folder is there – MOVE ALL YOUR WRITING FILES TO THAT FOLDER.
    4) Leave them there. They will automatically upload, if you have an internet connection.
    5) From here on out, whenever you write, click on your Dropbox/Drive folder, then open the writing file. Keep all your writing files inside that folder, and they will automatically synch with the web storage.
    6) That means I open Dropbox, open my writing project file, write, and then save – and it saves the changes to the file, which is in the Dropbox folder, which then automatically synchs with the online storage!

    Pro tips:
    – Yes, you can store your Scrivener projects in Dropbox.
    – I prefer Dropbox for this to Google Drive, by a slim margin. The reason is that Dropbox has a really easy to use track changes feature. It’s automatic. Which means if you accidentally save a bad copy of something over a good copy, you can go to Dropbox and rescue the old version. This actually saved me, once…!
    – Dropbox also gives you an additional 500mb of space for each referral who signs up – even if they sign up for the free service. So if you want to sign up, and liked my bit of advice here, MY referral link is:

    1. Yes, it’s free. There are ppaid options too for more storage – but if all you’re backing up is writing files, the paid options are probably overkill.

      Why paranoia? 😉 Honestly, I’d be more worried about having only a physical backup. One bad flood, hurricane, tornado, or burglary, and you’re toast. Online backup is the only truly reliable way to protect critical data. I’m not against occasional physical backups as well, if you want… But knowing that every time I save my wor in progress it is automatically backed up someplace far away is awesome for peach of mind!

      1. You’ve made a great point here – have a physical copy (flash drive/stick) AND a cloud back-up.

        I’m going to have to do both. I’ve been lucky, lucky, LUCKY so far that nothing has happened to my laptop, which is where EVERYTHING is. Phew!

        Off now to figure this out.

  10. Backing up files in three…two…one…
    I haven’t done a backup since August–about time I did. Thanks for the reminder. We also have an external drive which my husband (who is very chummy with computers) uses every now and then to back up all of our computers. We have our own cloud now too, where we can retrieve files. I lost everything one too many times…

  11. Ugh, I’d be climbing the walls. 🙁 Isn’t it funny how integral computers have become? I even keep my recipes on my computer.

    Okay, assuming your son /will/ get everything back up and running, here’s a bit of advice that may help in the future. It is a little technical but bear with me.

    Computers are usually setup with one BIG hard disk. All the vital programs are stored on this hard disk [including Windows itself]. All your personal data is stored there too. Eggs in one basket scenario, right? If something happens to the operating [Windows] files, your personal data can be collateral damage.

    But computers can be setup with multiple hard disks. It’s not even an unusual thing to do. I currently have one hard disk for Windows and all my application files, plus a second one just for MY data.

    Now you also need to know that application files and data files are very different in structure. This is important because if something corrupts the application files it’s unlikely it will also corrupt the data files. So the trick is to keep the two types of files separate so you can retrieve the data files no matter what happens to the application files.

    By having a second hard disk just for data, you ensure that if the worst happens to Windows, you can just physically reach in, disconnect the data hard disk and bung it into a new computer. No data lost.

    I hope my explanation makes sense, and good luck!

    1. Thanks so much. Yes, that makes perfect sense and I’m sure my son could set that up. He did retrieve everything and I now have an external drive everything saves to – sort of what you describe but outside the box.

    2. AC,

      This may be a case of me knowing just enough to be dangerous (I’m a software guy, we don’t do hardware), but would this have to be two physically separate hard drives or could it be done as two partitions on one physical drive?

      1. It would need to be two separate physical drives for it to do you any good, BigAl. If you have two partitions on one drive, then if the drive dies…everything is lost on both partitions anyway most of the time.

        Another thing to consider – costs a bit more, but WAY useful for peace of mind – is a RAID setup. You’d need to order the computer to be built that way. You can buy RAID machines from dealers who sell computers to gamers, and businesses, but generally you can’t get them from your local Best Buy.

        There are several sorts of RAID drives. The one we’re interested in is called “RAID 1”. This is a pair of physical drives, which have identical data sets on them. Whenever you write anything to the drive, the computer automatically writes it the same way to both drives.

        If one drive dies, the other still has EVERYTHING – the operating system, all your software, and all your data. Just replace the dead drive with a new one and you’re ready to roll again.

        These are REALLY cool, and used often in business. It’ll boost the cost of a PC by a couple hundred dollars to add it – but for peace of mind? It might be well worthwhile.

        1. But you’re at risk if the drive with the data files on it dies regardless, Kevin. That’s the part I wasn’t understanding regarding AC’s idea. If I followed, it protects from loss of the data files from corruption of the OS for whatever reason.

          A RAID drive is another story. That I understand. I think that’s what John meant talking about the mirror drives on his home network.

          1. Yeah, AC’s idea does not work, I think.

            The fundamental problem is simple: physical drives fail.

            The solution is also simple: you need all your data on more than one physical drive.

            There are lots of ways to get to that solution. Some are more elegant than others, but any of them are better than none! 🙂

  12. I’m so sorry, Yvonne. I’m sure Noah will come through for you. 🙂
    As soon as I read the title to this post, I stopped reading and backed up everything, lol. I think I should have a reminder and a link to your post come up at regular intervals on my PC screen. 🙂

Comments are closed.