On Zoetrope last week a few of us were griping about stories lost when computers crashed, or flash drives suddenly stopped flashing. It took me back almost twenty years to my first computer, a second-hand Commodore 64, on which I wrote almost all of my radio pieces.
The first time the computer had a hissy fit and threw away a story, I found a computer person – and they were thinner on the ground than they are now – and asked what I could do.
“Didn’t you have hard copy?” he asked.
“What, like a printout? I thought the point of computers was you didn’t need a printout. Save trees, right? Paperless office, hello?”
It was true then, and it’s true now. If you have a printout, the computer can’t eat your work, whether it tries with a corrupted flash drive, a scratched floppy disc or a hard drive that melts down. The technology to read a printout – unlike, say, the technology to read a five-inch floppy disc – never goes out of date. I have two stories that are still in my possession only because I had printed copies of them.
Every year about this time I put together a “family book”, a book of some of the stories I’ve written in the previous year, intended as a gift for family and some close friends. I also make a mini book, quarter-page size, containing micro-flashes from the previous year.
But my big project is my archive book. That’s the one where I print out everything I’ve written that year and bind it into a paper copy which the computer simply cannot eat. I make one for me, and one for my sister so I have an off-site archive.
I enjoy making books, so I do a proper sewn-into-signatures job with covers and all. One of these years I’ll probably also make a slipcase for an archive book, just to see if I can do it. But it doesn’t have to be that fancy. A double-sided printout held together with a bulldog clip and dropped into the bottom drawer of the desk will do as well. The second draft of my YA novel will probably be in a binder. The point is, it will not be left solely to the tender mercies of a piece of electronic equipment.
One of my Zoe friends lost everything on two computers and can’t get it back. If that happened to me, I’d be fit to tear my hair out – except, of course, that I have an archive book. I might have to type everything back in, a long, fiddly job that I’d just as soon not have to do, but at least I would have the stories.
Consider a print archive. Use recycled paper, double-sided and single-spaced to assuage your guilt if you must. Clip it together, stick it in a banker’s box and shove it under your bed. Then when the inevitable happens and the Blue Screen of Death leers at you, you can stick out your tongue at it.
“Nyah, nyah, didn’t get my novel!”