Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 18, 2022

A Modern Writing Horror Story

by Eldred Bird

It started like any other writing session. Drink in hand, I made my way to my office and plopped down in front of the computer. The welcome glow of the monitor lit my face as I settled in for what I felt would finally be a productive writing session—my first in quite some time.

Fresh ideas swirled as I opened the data directory and positioned the mouse pointer over my current work in progress. I clicked the button and waited. Nothing. I clicked again. Still nothing. I double-clicked and triple-clicked.

No response.

Panic began to set in as I attempted to open folder after folder. Still nothing! I listened for the familiar whir of the Network Attached Storage (NAS) on my desk next to the router but was met with silence.

I rebooted the drive, hoping beyond hope it would reconnect. I could hear the drive spin up, the heads jumping back and forth across the surface of the disc, searching for the missing ones and zeros that made up my life’s work.

The drive slowed, and then it stopped. I tried again, then again, with no success. Death hung heavy in the silence.

My data was gone.

A Writer’s Worst Nightmare

A real modern horror story, right? The scariest part is this actually happened. To me. This month. The NAS running the private cloud in my home failed one week before I was going to replace it with a newer model. All my writing, as well photos and household data, were inaccessible.

Adding to the stress was the fact that I hadn’t run a full back-up in years. How embarrassing is that? I was an IT guy in my pre-writing life. I know better than to get into this predicament.  But, between crazy life and parental strife, that vital habit had fallen by the wayside.

It felt like my entire life had been wiped out.

Recovering from Disaster

The first step in recovering from this kind of failure is don’t panic. (I know, I know. Easier said than done).

Remaining calm is key to not causing more damage.

Here are the steps, in order, to increase your chances of recovering from this kind of crisis:

1. Unplug the drive

Unplugging the power and network connections are the first steps in preventing further data loss. If you’re dealing with an internal drive, shut the computer down. Shutting things down will prevent further physical damage to the surface of the disc, increasing your chances of recovery.

2. Call a professional

Unless you do data recovery for a living, don’t mess with it yourself. Odds are you will only make it worse. As I mentioned, I’m a retired network engineer and IT professional, but I recognized very quickly that this was beyond my skillset.

3. Do your homework

Not all data recovery firms are created equal. Price is a consideration, but reviews are more important. You may only get one chance at this, so be picky and ask a lot of questions.

If you’re in the Phoenix area, I highly recommend Desert Data Recovery. They work miracles and do it at a reasonable price. Nicky also has a lovely British accent that’s very calming, a more important quality than you might think in the middle of a crisis.

4. Search for hidden files

While your drive is with your chosen recovery service, search for older versions of files in case your data can’t be retrieved.

Places to look might be old external drives and memory sticks floating around the house or office. Also, check out the Recycle Bin on your computer’s desktop. If you haven’t emptied it, there may be previous versions of your work you can use to rebuild. If you have an online cloud account, check to see if any of your data is backed there.

5. Restore deleted files

Even empty drives and memory sticks may yield some data when you run an Undelete utility on them. There are a lot of choices out there, but my personal favorite is Glarysoft File Recovery. They have a free version that works well, but for big jobs I would recommend the pro version.

My Journey to Recovery

The good news is that my story has a happier ending than most. The data recovery service was able to fully recover 100% of my files from the malfunctioning drive.

I immediately made a full copy of the recovered files and put it in my safe in case there were any other problems during the restoration process. Crisis averted…for now.

A New Strategy

As you can probably guess, things are going to be much different in the Bird house going forward. Backing up data will be taking a much higher priority.

To make the process easier, here are the steps I’m taking:

1. Data Organization

As I am restoring my data to the new NAS, I’m taking the opportunity to reorganize the files and folders into a more logical order. This will help speed the backup process, as some files are updated more often than others and require more frequent maintenance.

2. Culling Duplicates

One thing I’ve found a lot of while going through the recovered data are multiple copies of files, especially images, strewn around the drive inside various folders. I’m terrible about remembering where I’ve saved things and then end up resaving them somewhere else.

Eliminating the duplicates not only saves drive space, it also speeds up the backup process because there’s less to backup.

3. Scheduling Regular Backups

The most important change being made is the regular scheduling of backups. I can assure you that these will be performed religiously in the future!

In addition to the new network drive, I now have two additional large-capacity external drives that will be put into rotation. The latest backup will be stored in our fire-safe and the older one will be plugged into my desktop computer.

Backups will run automatically from the desktop computer, as it’s the one machine in the house that is always up. After each backup runs, the external drives will be swapped with the latest going back into the safe.

Some Final Thoughts

After going through this experience, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of regular backups. There are so many options that there’s no excuse anymore. Cloud services like OneDrive, Apple’s iDrive, and a multitude of other online services make it easy to keep your important data safe. Removable drives, USB drives, and network attached storages are also options.

Bottom line—find something that works for you and then use it!

Do you have a backup strategy? How consistent are you at backing up your files? Share what works (or doesn’t) for you in the comments below.

* * * * * *

About Eldred

Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing KarmaCatching Karma, and Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking RoomTreble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.

When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking, and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.

19 comments on “A Modern Writing Horror Story”

    1. Thanks, Karen. I've had a similar failure in the past that didn't as well. If sharing this experience even helps one person avoid the same fate, then it's worth it.

  1. I've had similar experiences. Similar but different. Back in the day, I used a different word processing software (so long ago I can't remember the name) and backed up onto floppy drives, the ones that actually flopped. The software became obsolete, the hardware died, floppies became obsolete and new hardware didn't accomodate them. New system, new backup to 3.5" disks, still called floppies though they didn't flop. Computer died. Bought a new computer and external hard drive, transferred (not back up) everything to it, including all my client files, and it crashed within a week. As it was still under warranty, I sent it to the manufacturer for repair and found the data could not be recovered. Rinse and repeat with variations. A few times. Gave up on physical backups and started putting everything one One Drive. The original files, not back-ups, since there's never warning when your computer decides it doesn't want to live anymore, and I may work from any of 3. Since then I've never had a problem (touch wood). The only thing I need to worry about is re-installing Word when I get a new computer. God help me if Microsoft dies.

    1. Yeah, I get where you're coming from, Virginia. I can't begin to tell you how much data I've lost to old technology! I'm glad you found a solution that works for you.

  2. September 25, 2020. My computer became a zombie before my eyes before I was even awake (a combination of a virus and trying to update at the same time). My chair, the floor, and the ground beneath dropped to the Earth's core. Outside, local pandemic case numbers were soaring. I'm high risk. All I lost was due to poor timing. I'd had multiple background files pertaining to Case of the Deadly Stroll that I'd consolidated into a folder the day before. I lost the folder. While the computer was gone, though, I sat on the couch and wrote by hand or used my ancient laptop to recreate, then expand upon, all I'd done.

    I have a Mac and use Scrivener. Scrivener saves after every change. The Mac has Time Machine that (if you set it up) backs up to an external drive each day. It does so quietly in the background. It'd been so long since I did it that I forgot I had. They asked if I'd done so and my response was a very intelligent, "Huh?" In the end, the computer was restored (I'm using it now), I added all my new work (the most extensive I'd ever done for a novel), and I purchased an even bigger backup drive. Too, periodically, I save copies of all my works on the Cloud.

  3. Thank goodness you found a good company to help you! What a mess.

    We lost data in the late 90s. Since then we're careful to do backups every week.

    When writing, I periodically save just in case anything goes wrong.

    After learning of your adventures in data retrieval, we're thinking about secondary storage. I couldn't hurt!

    1. Secondary storage is always a goo thein. You can never backup too much, only too little...

  4. This is the one time when I agree with the conventional wisdom: do not try to fix a problem of this magnitude yourself - get professional help, and pay for it properly. Everything else you may be able, as a self-publisher, to do yourself: it is all learnable.

    Hardware problems, nope.

  5. Bob, this truly is a horror story! And although I appreciate the tips for recovering data - I hope I never need it. 🙂 I'm happy it worked out well for you.

  6. Thank you so much for this! As someone who did once lose a manuscript, I've been a fanatic for backups and cloud storage ever since. Your writing made this a beautiful read even though I don't like horror stories! (grin) I'm glad there was a happy ending. My favorite piece of advice was to remain calm. I had a situation a few years back where I had a data crash. My initial response was to restore from backup. Good idea, right? Except what I *should* have done in that situation was to make a new backup before doing the restore. When the restore went badly, I'd not only lost the data I'd already lost... but I'd also lost another week's worth. I'm slower to react these days, and frequently face any new challenge with, "Don't panic. Breathe. Think calmly." This has saved me from several nightmare scenarios recently. (I work with a LOT of tech...)

  7. Last Friday, my hard drive died. Suddenly, and almost unexpectedly. I had something weird happen the night before, but it fixed itself after rebooting, so I thought it was just an update. I wish I had known 24-hours later it would just die. I actually cried.

    I'm writing this from my husband's computer. His friend is trying to recover all of my data from the hard drive. He put a new one in my computer and that laptop's running and good to go. I, too, did not have everything backed up. My husband's friend is sure he's recovering data and thinks it may need one or m ore two days on the system he's using. He's a great IT guy and I'm getting the friend rate. This has not been a fun experience.

    Listen to Eldred.


  8. After a drive crash years ago that cost me some irreplaceable family photos, including some of people who were no longer around, I have probably gone overboard with backups. I run a backup any time I have made any significant changes or additions to the contents of my hard drives (separate drives for docs, pictures, music, and videos because I'm a digital pack rat, but at least it's all well organized.) I have one internal backup drive in my tower PC and two external backups; each backup goes to the internal drive and I alternate between the two externals. I keep a 12 TB mass storage device as well, and two or three times a month I save another generation of backup files on that, since it's big enough to hold between five and ten generations of backups. The one not in use goes into the fire-resistant document safe.
    Also, although I do most of my work on the desktop I'm at right now, I have a laptop and the most important stuff is on that as well, in a different room.
    So to wipe my files out, my house would have to be hit by a meteorite or something.

  9. This fellow Zoni writer fell into the hands of a dead Motherboard. I was in full crises mode until Jenny Hansen's dear hubby saved my files from distinction. It was a nightmare that I do not ever want to experience again. Thus, everything is backed up on multiple sources. Glad you had a good outcome as well. And thank you for the Desert Data Recovery referral. I will definitely keep them in mind. 🙂

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