Sunday, January 03, 2010

Because Even I Can’t Believe It

I’m still enjoying my new toy and, except for a ‘minor hiccup,’ we’re getting on just fine. That minor hiccup, however, was nearly the end of things, and I offer it here as a cautionary tale to benefit us all:

When I got the laptop, I immediately copied my novel directory onto it. Since I no longer had to work on multiple computers, there was no need to constantly copy my novel to a USB drive. (The astute among you already see where this is heading; but wait, it gets worse.)

I spent four days installing software, copying files, tweaking and happily working on my novel. Then, because I had too much time on my hands, I managed to uninstall the video drivers.

There are mitigating circumstances surrounding this, but listing them here would take too much time and would not negate the inescapable fact that it was a boneheaded thing to do. Especially since, as a computer professional, I should know better.

At any rate, I found myself with a perfectly functioning, brand new laptop that would show me nothing but a black screen. It seemed almost amusing at first, until it dawned on me that four days worth of my unbacked up novel were hiding in the dark on the laptop’s hard drive. At my current rate, that’s about 5,000 words gone. Or, more maddeningly, sitting there in front of me but, like a treasure sitting in plain sight in a pitch black storage room, totally inaccessible.

I was sick. I tried everything—safe mode, plugging into an auxiliary monitor, even tinkering with the BIOS. Nothing worked. Not only had I destroyed a two-hundred pound piece of kit, I had lost four days of work, and the worse thing was, I couldn’t blame anyone but myself. I was so frustrated I went to bed at eight o’clock because reality was too harsh to face. Naturally, I didn’t sleep much, but over the course of that sleepless night, I underwent the seven stages of grief and woke to my 5 AM alarm with fresh resolve.

I recalled the last sentence I had written the day before, so I fired up my desktop PC, opened the most up to date novel file, spaced down a few lines and picked up where I had left off, proposing to fill in the gap when time permitted. After a few paragraphs, however, a thought occurred to me: opening my novel involved a series of keystrokes, and I thought I could go through them even with my eyes closed, so to speak.

Not wanting to waste my writing time, but unable to get the absurd notion out of my mind, I opened up the laptop, started at the blank screen and started pressing buttons:

Enter to log on, open a desktop explorer, down, down, right, down, copy, up, up, left, down, down, down, down, paste. My USB port blinked. Something was being copied to it. I put it in the desktop PC and was so incredulous when I saw my novel fold there I thought I must have actually backed it up and just forgot about it. But the timestamp confirmed, I had done it; I had miraculously reached into the black abyss and come out with my novel. I opened it—all the words were there—said a quick prayer of thanks to the writing gods, and got to work.

Later that day I pulled out the laptop’s documentation and there, at the bottom of the last page, was The Command, bracketed with warnings in bold capital letters to never, ever use it except in a dire emergency, as it would restore to laptop to its original state and destroy everything else on the hard drive. This looked like an emergency to me, and my novel was the only thing I had needed to save, so I invoked The Command. Fifteen minutes later, after many “Are you sure?” warnings, my laptop was, literally, good as new.

The subsequent set up, having just recently been done, was repeated in about two hours. Problem solved.

I realize I was luckier than I deserved to be, but the lesson was not lost. I always back up my work to a USB drive after every session now, and I never, ever tinker with the video drivers.

Now if I can just get that mouse driver updated...


  1. I always think of backing up stuff and never do. But these days i understand it is a lot easier to just copy things on to the net filing...Like google docs, have you tried it?

  2. Scary: I haven't tried that. It sounds like a good option as long as you can get to the Internet, which is hardly a problem these days. I use a backup utility called AlwaySynch to put the work on a USB drive because I am often in a place where I can't get Internet access (i.e. The Bus)

  3. Margaret Mitchell I'm told had to rewrite Gone with the wind. is that true. You are very brave to even attempt the things you do. I can manage a light switch on and off and thats about it.

  4. Ken: If she did lose the manuscript for Gone With The Wind, at least she did it the old fashioned way.

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