Here’s a lesson for you all

Having finished the draft of the first part of the novel last week, I’ve started from the beginning again, doing a readability and sense check. On Sunday night, having completed chapter 4, I saved my work and closed up my laptop, pretty much as normal.

Yesterday morning when I opened my lap top, instead of resuming Windows as it normally does, it informed me the previous run hadn’t been shut down normally. I selected the normal start option. This happens occasionally.

I think you know what’s coming here.

Usually, Open Office flags up documents which were open, and goes into recovery mode, On this occasion it didn’t. So I went into the folder and clicked on the document. It presented me with a panel headed ‘ASCII Filter Options’. Strange. I’d never seen this before. It contained a number of options which seemed to suggest it was importing from an ASCII file, rather than opening an Open Office file. Whatever option I selected, by the time it opened the document, all that could be seen were #’s. 204K of them! (It also thought the document was locked by an unknown user, so I could either open it in read-only mode or as a copy. The copy didn’t work, so I had to select it as read-only)

I spent yesterday trying to get out of this problem, before reluctantly having to say goodbye to my document. I even tried software which searches the disk for deleted copies in the hope it might find a version deleted by the word processor when it saved a newer version.

No joy.

From googling the problem, it seems the file is corrupt and the only way out is to resort to a backup.

Guess what. I had no recent backup.

With everything that’s been going on this year I’ve not been very good at doing the house keeping. The most recent copy I could find was on an external disk, written in early May. Ironically, I had been thinking it was time to do a backup on Sunday afternoon. I wish I’d followed up on the thought at the time, but somehow the editing seemed more important.

Fortunately, on this occasion, it’s not as bad as it seems. I have been extracting a chapter at a time into a separate document, editing it and then pasting it back in to the main document. So with a bit of work I can get back to where I was at the start of last week. I know I did a few tweaks to the text after putting some chapters back, so I’ll have to look out for them when I go through it all again. The only stumbling block here is that as I did the editing I created multiple copies of each chapter document, so I need to figure out which versions to incorporate.

By doing this I should be able to come up with a fairly recent copy. When I started the readability checks, I did so against the main document, so all the changes I made – and there were a lot of them – have been lost. On Sunday night I had just completed chapter 4, so at least I don’t have too much to do, but a couple of the chapters are quite long.

I’ve rebuilt the first four chapters of the book now, and while the changes (might) be fresh in my head, I intend to do the readability check now before rebuilding any more of the document. This unfortunately spoils the continuity of the editing process. I don’t think I’m going to end up with the changes I was happy with before, so I have this sneaking suspicion I will feel less than happy about chapters one to four, no matter what I do to them from here on.

So, the lesson to you all, is never put off doing a backup because you think the more interesting stuff is more important.

What is really ironic is that when I was working as a Database Administrator, I was so diligent about backup and recovery routines. Losing someone’s financial or planning data wasn’t something I ever wanted to experience. Yes we sometimes ‘lost’ data, for instance with disk failures, but we were always able to recover it from backups. Funny how other people’s data seems more important than your own.

I’ve learned a lesson here the hard way and intend to change my method of working. As a temporary measure, I will backup to a memory stick before closing the lid, to cover me between backups to external disk.

Take backups seriously.

3 thoughts on “Here’s a lesson for you all

  1. AnnMarie Wyncoll

    Yep, could not agree more! I had the same experience but this was with Scrivener. I ended up losing four thousand words which doesn’t seem as bad as what happened to you, but it was an entire chapter of which I was really proud. I now back up initially to a memory stick and then I try to remember to back up regularly to both Dropbox and another external backup provider. I’m not always as good at it as I should be though so this is a timely reminder. Thank you and good luck with recovering your work.


  2. Niels Saunders

    So sorry to hear that, Brian.

    If I ever need help with this kind of thing, I usually post on reddit. People there are always so helpful and will go out of their way to assist. I’m sure you did everything you possibly could to salvage it though.

    Best of luck with the rebuild.



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