09 Jul The Writer’s Worst Nightmare

I’ve just lost the final revision of my novel-in-progress. Irretrievable. I picture it spinning away into the digital void like a spaceship wheeling and tumbling into a black hole. All gone. This was three weeks of intensive work, eight hours a day, 200 new pages added to the original draft, a total re-make of the original. I can’t even begin to remember all the changes I made, the serendipitous edits, the surprising scenes I discovered.

Did you have backups? you may ask. Yes, I did. Did you autosave? Yes, I did–every five minutes. And yet, it’s gone, all gone? Yes, it is.

What happened? I was using Dropbox. And saving everything, including backups, to Dropbox. Alas, I was so embedded in revising, I didn’t think to make an alternate backup (to my desktop or external drive). Dropbox had always been like an iron vault. I thought I was doing the right thing!

But then Dropbox failed. Yesterday morning, I went to open my latest draft and was stunned to find only a three-week-old version. Imagine my panic as I riffled through the files and backups and found NOTHING but OLD drafts from weeks ago (before I had started the final revision). Surely this was fixable.

I contacted Dropbox’s technical support. They got back to me this morning, unable to locate those files. How is that possible? I asked. I had been saving to Dropbox and backing up to Dropbox and retrieving from Dropbox until yesterday morning. How could those files have disappeared? Sorry: there’s no record of those files ever having been in Dropbox.

I did every kind of digging and searching I could on my computer (through the cache files, etc.). No luck.

It’s a Twilight Zone scenario, as I struggle to remember the countless new edits and additions as if they were dreams from another life in another world. There’s no evidence that they ever existed.

My first inclination is to rush into my own recovery mode and write down as much as I can recall of the final draft. But that’s a recipe for disaster because the scenes won’t feel right, the pacing will be off, the wording will sound forced. No, it seems I’ll have to start over, pace myself, and see what happens, with the possibility that I simply can’t re-capture the spirit or energy of the lost version.

And when will I do this? I don’t know. I’m out of writing time–other duties call.

I’m sure you’ve heard of similar stories. William Thackeray lost a novel after his maid used his final draft to start a fire in the hearth. Stalwart, dedicated writer that he was, he simply re-wrote the six hundred pages. And he didn’t fire the maid!

It’s an occupational hazard, needless to say, and the lesson (about backups) is more than painful because didn’t we learn this lesson years ago?