• Losing Your Writing, Vol. 2

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 27 comments


    Discussion questions: What do you use/do to back up your work? What’s your most horribly horrific horror story involving lost writing? Let me know in the comments below.


    I owe some work to my new writing group, and the new group coincides with a re-envisioning of my fiction: What started as a novel and then became a linked story collection is now again a novel.

    So on Saturday I sat myself down, wrote Chapter 1 at the top of the page, and dove in.

    Monday afternoon, after about six hours of work over three days, I had a 2,500-word chapter.

    Not only that, it felt like a good chapter. Something that, after a small amount of revision, I’d be comfortable sharing with the bunch of strangers that make up my new group.

    Monday night, my computer died. The photo above? Of the sad faces behind what looks like prison bars? That was the graphic on the screen that led me to believe that this experience was not going to end well.

    And it didn’t. My computer is unfixable, and the file, my new Chapter 1, is unrecoverable.

    Well surely you saved it to a flash drive, or emailed it to yourself, or put it in, or on, or whatever, some kind of cloud thing, or Dropbox, or Google Drive, or any one of the dozens of available backup systems. Is what you’re thinking.

    Of course, we wouldn’t be talking about this if I’d done so.

    So, my new chapter is gone and I can’t ever get it back. Yes, I’m a dumdum.

    Particularly because when something similar happened in May of last year, I vowed, in a post called “Losing Your Writing,”that I would never again let something so stupid happen to me.

    I’ll reproduce of it what I can, and wing the rest, and it’ll be fine. It’s not such a grievous loss.

    But I hope it never happens to you. Back up your work! And not just onto flash drives, which carry their own risks. I really don’t understand what a cloud is, but it exists, and it exists in part to help writers avoid these kinds of things.

    If you already do consistently back up your work, let me know in the comments what you use.

    Now if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go try to write a chapter I’ve already written.



    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2019 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”


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    Hey writers i am a brand new writer its like swimming with the sharks. I am writing my biography now that I am only 82 and the memories are fading except the memories of my young years which I am sure every one of you remembers. i like to hear you to success and fail stories


    Oh boy, do I remember losing my writing. I happened to be in college at the time, which was rather stressful. I had to get A’s on all my papers and wrote and wrote. But little did I know, that the darn computer at home that I was using, was going to make life so complicated. And so, here I was. WRITING for hours and hours and when I went to click SEND to hand in the assignment, by accident I hit the wrong key. And I screamed so loudly. I wanted to pull out my hair. My daughter thought… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    Use a writing program like Word, Libre office, Google Docs, etc. Then email it as an attachment to yourself or to who ever is supposed to get it. Google Doc is free and a great place to save things you will need later.

    Barbara Mealer

    After having a laptop stolen (with nothing backed up as there wasn’t a cloud at the time) and one which crashed where I manged to get most of my stuff off it for $250, I now use the cloud and a backup hard drive to save my important things (Like everything!) I’ve also used thumb drives which have all my music and picture files (Well most of them anyway). My first drafts stay on my computer with a copy on the external hard drive. My second draft goes to the cloud along with things like my covers and blurbs, etc.… Read more »


    Thanks for the email. I did not know anyone was going to respond to me so soon. Being a writer is a lonely life many times, so it is nice to connect with other writers. GREAT. Thanks for the email. Grateful, Brigitte


    Brigitte here. I was not really able to reproduce everything. Not possible. But I did write something rather decent. I am a perfectionist and so no matter what I would have written, even if most of it was the same…I was so mad at myself that nothing mattered. It was only a short response I needed at the time, anyway. So, I did fine on the assignment. Oh my God! If that happened to multiple papers, all at once?? Jesus. I may have screamed so loudly that the cops wold have thought someone were being brutally harmed in my bedroom.… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    The cloud is like One Drive or Google docs where it isn’t stored on your computer but on another server elsewhere. I can access anything I have in either one on any device I own which has an android operating system. You don’t lose it and you can access it from anywhere you have an internet connection. Yeah, it was horrible having the computer stolen as I had some really old music on it which was irreplaceable along with all my pictures from England and France, and some family pictures which I didn’t have backed up anywhere. As for Scrivener,… Read more »

    Hans De Léo

    Nice graphic. Remember the “blue screen of death”? Coming from the old days of CP/M, DOS, and floppy disks, losing work was an occupational hazard. I survived Windows 3, 95, 98, NT, XP, etc. I learned over the years to save my work like some people vote: early, often, and in multiple places. At work I stopped using local drives and did all my work on network storage. That saved my work on many occasions. For my writing I use Scrivener, which saves my work as I’m going. Then Google backup and sync copies my data to the cloud. Even… Read more »

    Hans De Léo

    To answer your question, Scrivener saves your work to the local machine. Google backup and sync scans designated folders for changes and syncs the cloud accordingly. The end result is that the data is in both places. It’s not fool-proof, bit it is convenient. I can relate on the laptop. As writers we don’t need the fastest or best or most capable. All we need is something that works and is dependable. The one I’m using now I acquired used some time ago. It’s a solid machine, but unable to keep up with all it has to do these days.… Read more »

    Hans De Léo

    Each tool has its strong and weak points. Word is better at proofing, but Scrivener has outlining and organization features that Word doesn’t. I do my writing in Scrivener and “compile” to Word to send it out for review and copy edit. I created the .mobi file for the Kindle version of my book directly from Scrivener.
    Worth every penny I paid.

    Jerry Schwartz

    Remember the early years of CP/M, when if your file wouldn’t fit on your (8″) floppy you were totally screwed?

    Chris Obudho

    I’m a technical writer, not a novelist, but I have SO MANY back up functions it’s a little neurotic! I use all of them: Google Docs, Dropbox, OneDrive, etc. When I’m in MS Word, I set up the autosave for every 5 minutes (the default is 10 I believe). It’s simple to do: “File” > “Options” > “Save” > You’ll see “Save AutoRecover information every X minutes”; select how often it saves and you’re all set! You can also change some other settings as well, including the AutoRecover file location. So I guess you could even have the Word autosave… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    Be careful! There’s a big difference between backing up and synchronizing. I believe Google Drive and OneDrive do synchronization.

    Jerry Schwartz

    I am obsessive about backing up my system. I do a full backup every month (keeping at least a year’s worth); a full followed by an incremental every night (keeping three months worth of chains); and a cloud backup of all of my documents and email. (You don’t want to see a big pile of ash where your computer used to be and a smaller pile of ash where your backup drive used to be.) In addition, my internal drives are mirrored. Recently I’ve added an additional full backup each day, because I’ve been horsing around my system. Each of… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    If you have a car, keep a flash drive in the glove box. An external drive is typically a USB drive. They’re pretty much plug-and-play. They’re as easy to use as a flash drive, really, and you can get them in truly enormous capacities. I have them in 1TB, a 4TB, and an 8TB. You’d want to keep that in your car too. If you have a master password list, keep a current printout offsite. You should consider putting in place a backup scheme that preserves generations of your files. That way you’ll be able to go back to a… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    By the way, even if your system won’t run, your files are likely still on the disk. The disk can be taken out of your computer and moved to another (using a cheap adaptor, if need be). If I used a laptop, I’d make sure I had one of those adaptors around.

    Jerry Schwartz

    Basically, you’re turning your internal drive into an external drive. It isn’t terribly complicated on most laptops. If there are instructions for replacing the disk drive, you only need half of them. ;)


    I lost a rewrite when I was working in Libre Office Writer. I hadn’t learned well enough about saving. I explored my setup and discovered Google docs with auto save. Been writing in that ever since. I have yet to learn how to use a thumb drive. I ha a new one plugged in ready for any instructions . If anyone here wants to give me a clue I’d like that.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x