My Dad Deleted My Novel
A nostalgic and cautionary tale about backing up your work.
I started writing a novel when I was thirteen. The year was 2001, and I diligently typed away on the beige family desktop each evening, headphones feeding me a constant stream of carefully curated midi files and Clippy insisting I was probably writing a letter and needed assistance. Floppies littered the desk and magnets were strictly banned from coming anywhere near this slovenly behemoth and its tangled nest of wires. I blocked any and all distractions with my cleverly worded AIM away message, one of several for every occasion.
(Also, if it sounded like that last paragraph was in another language, congrats on your functional joints. I’m jealous.)
An inspiring start
It was an epic fantasy about four magical girls that could transform into dragons. There was an anthropomorphic black cat that helped them, and an evil bad guy to be overthrown. There was lore, the genocide of the cat’s species, and bloodlines. Artifacts abound, and each girl had their own unique dragon form (including eastern-style dragons). It was my opus, my pride and joy, nestled in the confines of the C: drive.
My dad, meanwhile, was doggedly trying to switch from a lifetime of construction work to the blossoming world of IT. He always enthusiastically supported my creative endeavors, from music to art and everything and anything in between, but he also was keen for me to learn C++ alongside him (I did not). He was also a keen early adopter of whatever new technology we could afford (very little). So that meant he was confined to experimenting with the family desktop instead, teaching himself to program on it and learning how the hardware worked. I’m sure you can see where this is going.
A dream disappeared
Just like most evenings, I logged onto the desktop, ready to get through another chapter. But something was wrong. The midi files I had downloaded were gone. Still, that was just music. But the Word document was gone too. Cue my heart starting to pound. Months of work, MIA. I searched everywhere, checked the Recycle Bin, then double checked while forcing myself to take deep breaths.
When nothing turned up, I went to my dad, blinking back tears, and asked where he’d put my files. He seemed confused, and I explained that my novel was nowhere to be found. Confusion coupled with shock on his face; he didn’t know I was writing a novel. He then went on to explain, with guilt knitting his brow, that he reformatted the hard drive. Everything was gone.
We were both distraught, as he had not backed up anything of mine onto a floppy disk. I didn’t have notes on the story, I hadn’t sent it to anyone, had not printed it, or otherwise created any copies. It was around sixty percent finished, and now there was nothing left of it.
My dad, to his credit, apologized profusely. As I mentioned before, he had always supported my creative pursuits more than anyone, and deleting my novel had hit him hard. Hard enough, in fact, that shortly after, he got a new computer, and gave me the old family desktop. From that point on, I always had my own computer, and thus total control over my own data. Alas, I never wrote another word of that novel.
The lessons learned
While those magical girls and their trusty cat remain relegated to the fringes of my memory, I did learn a few lessons from this little disaster:
- Always back up your work, and often.
I did take this to heart. Throughout university, I kept my work on my laptop, on an external hard drive, and frequently emailed it to myself. These days, I tend to work primarily on Google Drives, with some work on Evernote, and I own millions of flash drives.
I’m admittedly a little more lax these days, but it’s with the naive notion that Google will never experience downtime. Whether or not that’s true, it’s also worth keeping your files in an environment where you have full control.
- Tell people what you’re working on.
It had never occurred to me to tell my dad (or anyone, really) that I was writing a novel. We’re often told to announce our convictions loud and proud, and it can be a good way to build up a support network for the arduous task of bringing your story into the world.
I still waffle on whether or not to keep people up to date on what I’m working on (except the person that has contracted stories from me; he gets to know everything he wants to know) because I worry that the praise that rolls in just from intentions will lead me to complacency when it comes to actually following through. But some people do NEED to know you’re working on a project. Tell them.
- Back up your work again. Trust me.
Seriously. You’ll never regret backing up your work.
My dad’s no longer around to cheer me on, but I know he’d be thrilled to see me still writing, still making art, and putting myself out there. And in the meantime, all I can do is remember what he taught me, both intentionally and accidentally. So I suppose I’ll be creating space on an external hard drive and a weekly reminder to back everything up.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll start writing about magical girls again some day.
Want to read more writing advice? Check out these stories:
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I also explore my relationship with my late father in my poetry: