27 December 2010

Accidents: Vanishing Manuscript Syndrome

By Anna C. Bowling

One of the greatest disasters known to writerkind can happen in any number of ways. A power outage could do it, or a pet chewing on the extension cord. "Save" and "delete" are only a mouse click apart. There's the dreaded internet virus that brings the blue screen of death. Maybe the files from the old word processing program aren't compatible with the new one and the writer is now looking at a file full of incomprehensible symbols.

Vanishing Manuscript Syndrome has five unique stages (with apologies to Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross):

Denial: This can't be real. All that work, all that research, all those characters and their world where the writer lived and breathed for all that time, gone in a blink.

Anger: Family members may rush in upon hearing the animalistic roar that comes from the writer's den. The writer may malign the internet in general, the computer, the computer's power source, or whatever has made off with the best book ever. This isn't fair.

Bargaining: The writer may make appeals to their deity of choice and/or resident techy family member, promising extravagant rewards if the file can be saved.

Depression: What's the use? The book stunk anyway. Maybe this is a sign from the universe. Maybe the writer should forget about writing and go back to alligator wrestling or something less stressful.

Acceptance: Okay, that version is gone and it's not coming back. The writer could give up, but the characters are still there and still want their stories told. The writer searches for backup copies, or requests them from critique partners. Deep breath, beverage of choice, and open a new document. This version will be even better.

Have you ever had Vanishing Manuscript Syndrome? If not, how do you prevent it? How do you deal with recovering from this sort of accident?

Writing historical romances allows Anna C. Bowling to travel through time on a daily basis and make the voices in her head pay rent. Her current release, ORPHANS IN THE STORM, is available from Awe-Struck E-books.


Delia DeLeest said...

I was so careful. I saved my Nanowrimo manuscript as a word doc, on a disk and e-mailed it to myself. Then, a couple months after November, I decided to open it up and see what 30 days of feverish writing had produced. Apparently, what it produced was a corrupted file, in all three of my saved formats. Let's just say, words were said. Fortunately, I have a wonderful friend whose techy husband made it his life's goal to open that stupid document for me. He succeeded and I'm eternally grateful.

Erastes said...

I have been lucky so far...I have lost sections because I forgot to save, or the PC crashed, and of course Word doesn't save an already recovered document (now I use open office which DOES)but not an entire book - I think I would shoot myself.

Last month my mss became corrupted (possibly because I created it in Word and use a converted version) and I ended up with half of it in absolute gobbledegook, like a mirror shattered into a million pieces - it took a week to put it back together and even then it was not exact.

Up to then, I'd generally been careful, but now I'm paranoid about it. I save in Word andin open office. I email a copy via gmail to myself and a friend so there are 3 copies in the ether and I save to googledocs. I NEVER want to feel those feelings again.

librarypat said...

I am not an author, so have never lost a story I have been working on. I have had comment to posts that I have spent a half hour writing get deleted or just vanish. Much smaller scale, but still frustrating. I don't know enough about computers to use them efficiently. There is so much I don't know about how they work and how to work them.

Anna Carrasco Bowling said...

Delia, I feel your pain. I've had that dastardly corruption happen more than once. What a wonderful friend with a wonderful husband to help combat VMS for you.

Erastes, saving in Googledoc is a great idea. Adding that to my arsenal.

Librarypat, losing a post is still an awful experience. Maybe try composing in Wordpad or another program and copy/pasting might help?

Deb said...

I do not write fiction, but for many years I was a technical writer. I was fortunate in one of my earliest jobs to have a boss who was absolutely fanatical about backing-up regularly; her rule was if you lost material that you had failed to back-up you would have to re-input on your own time. That 'larned' me quickly! Today, I recommend frequent back-ups on your hard drive, plus regular back-ups on an external (flash) drive. And, although it seems old school, whenever you've finished a significant chunk of documentation, go ahead and print it out. If nothing else, you'll have a hardcopy to use for re-input if worse comes to worst.

Anna Carrasco Bowling said...

Deb, that's a great motivator your boss had. Backup often and backup the backup. Printouts have saved many a manuscript from becoming another VMS fatality.