Last Sunday when I was running around trying to get ready for a day out with my kids and husband I stopped for a few minutes to clear some space on my computer. It had been warning me for weeks that it didn’t have enough disk space to run the newest update and for some reason that morning I couldn’t stand seeing the window pop up anymore.
In no more than ten minutes I was able to do what a computer expert couldn’t undo in three hours. With a few clicks of my fingers I wiped every saved document that existed on my hard drive.
Every article was gone, every short story, every word of my novel. In the few seconds it took to realize what I lost, a hundred moments flashed through my mind. All the late nights I’d hunched over my keyboard, elbow pressed against a cold tea cup, my face illuminated by the blue-white screen. Every time I’d passed on building a Lego castle with my boys to get in one more paragraph. I saw all the Saturdays I hid myself in my writing room and heard all the voices I labored to bring to life whispering in my ear. It felt like all of that time meant nothing.
Aside from what I posted on my blog and the few things I emailed to my writing buddies I hadn’t backed any of my documents up. Who needs backup when everything is supposed to be safe in the cloud? When Macs are known for being near indestructible? I didn’t think I needed Dropbox or Google Drive. I wasn’t going to be paranoid and go buy a jump drive. I was fine.
Until I wasn’t fine and I was a writer with no writing.
I cried for a day then made myself stop. I tried to write for the next four days and nothing came. It felt like something heavy was sitting on my hands and my brain was swimming through Jello. Nothing was there but the loss.
It took me two days to find the courage to go through what I could salvage from friends and type up from my journals. As I typed I remembered sitting in middle school on the old school style macs.
We’d bring our floppy disks to the computer lab and type up papers about Shakespeare or The Civil War. Our teacher would walk slowly down each of the rows with his hands crossed over his pot bellied stomach. He’d break up talking with the flick of his unsharpened pencil on someone’s shoulder and stop for brief moments to lean beside someone else and whisper that he knew they were playing solitaire and they’d better knock it off. He’d hum Blink 182 songs and remind us every few minutes in a thick country accent that, “Only morons don’t save their damn work every 15 minutes or so.”
I wrote his crass words on a sticky note and stuck it to the corner of my computer. My husband copied it and made a big sign for the wall beside my desk. My teacher’s words floated in the air around me for days.
I saved my salvaged work, four times. I emailed it to my email address that I set up for the explicit purpose of saving stories. I checked that it was saved right. I double checked. Then I sat, my hands lightly over the keys with a word document opened and I felt its mocking blank stare, the reminder of what happened last time and I typed one word after another and told myself that it’s never all for nothing.
So my advice to you this week is not advice but a command, and it’s not about short stories or novels or grocery lists or articles. My advice is short and clear and sent from yours truly on the heels of a bitter lesson I hope to never be forced to endure again. We are so much luckier than we were a few years ago when saving our work meant not losing our oversized case of floppy disks. We have iCloud and Google, we have jump drives and email, and in my case also a lock box at the bank. We have no excuse to be in a predicament as preventable as the one I’m now facing. So save your work, and be obsessive, and if you need a reminder from someone a little more straightforward and words a little harder, imagine that I’m standing in front of you with my best mock Georgia accent and my finger is in your face and I’m shouting:
“ONLY MORONS DON’T SAVE THEIR DAMN WORK!”