Saturday, March 22, 2008


While computers have done a great deal to make a writer's life easier, there is one way in which words on a screen can never improve on paper. Barring a fire, or a careless spring clean of a room, words on paper can't be easily lost. But words on a screen are only one mouse click away from oblivion.

Yesterday, I began transferring, from laptop to desktop, the work on The Lovers that I had done in the US. The delay in the transfer was due to travel, and the completion of my office, in which I am, or was, happily established. I had about 25,000 words from the US, and before I left I'd managed to get about 30,000 done on my desktop. Due to the vagaries of builders, painters, and assorted other distractions, I'd failed to back them up.

I know, I know. My fault, right? I always back up what I write, but moving house tends to result in routines falling by the wayside. I've been struggling to find my feet, let alone a place to work, in the new house. I think I was just glad to be getting any work at all done while strange men were trooping through equally strange rooms.

So yesterday, in my nice little office space, I transferred one file marked 'The Lovers' to my desktop and, when asked if I wanted to replace the older file with the same title, I immediately clicked 'OK'.

Bang. 30,000 words gone. The prologue, the first five chapters, all gone. As I write this, I'm sitting in a state of near shock. That's three months of hard grind down the drain, and I've undone all that I managed to achieve in the US. A frantic call to the nice, clever computer man who services my Mac gave no joy: I'd overwritten the files, not deleted them. They're gone, and they're not coming back.

This is the first time that I've ever lost so much work. It's beyond frustrating. I was on target to complete the book in October, allowing for time spent touring The Reapers, and now I'm not. I'm not sure that I can even remember what I wrote: I can recall characters and situations, but not the dialogue. The prologue was good, I felt, and a long encounter between a girl and the parents of her murdered boyfriend was moving and more than a little eerie, but trying to reproduce it exactly will be like trying to snatch at smoke. Right now, I want to bang my head against the wall. It's my own stupidity that's caused this to happen.

So what to do? Start again, that's what. Open a new file, entitle it 'Prologue', and begin writing.

And yet that's so much easier said than done.

Damn. Damn, damn, damn . . .


Jen Jordan said...

So, in this case, Sartre was wrong. Hell isn't others, it is one's self?

Patricia J. Hale said...

Oh, that's nasty.

In your situation, if I were you, I'd try getting a second opinion, possibly from some data recovery pros. If I'm understanding it right, you had 5,000 more words on the old file (so depending where the overlay is the smaller and can't overlay all) - they may at least be able to recover that...unless it's better to just start over than to get some of it. (programmer in a past life, mostly the old technology).

I know it was valuable. I'm on the last couple of pages of "The Unquiet" - it's bitchin.

Eamon said...

It may be worth checking your 'temporary files' to see if the previous version is there. Perhaps you already tried this.

Ali Karim said...

Holy Moully,

I know that feeling, utter, utter, utter devastation - but the best advice is switch the machine off and take the hard drive to a data-recovery specialist - as the overwrite might have a 'sector-overlap' - so you might have some of the new stuff somewhere. The temp folder idea might also be an option, but I guess you've tried that, and depends on your word configuration -

It happened to me a month ago as I was distracted by a phonecall, and when prompted to 'save changes' - I said 'no' and lost a days work - which was bad, but in the context of your loss - inconsequental.

Just keep your chin up - I can think of worse things that could have happened, but as my imagination is not as dark as yours, I'm sure you could think of even worse predicaments - That might retain some of your sanity.

Best wishes for what it's worth


Fiona said...

God John.
That's dismal. You must have cried. Talk to Josh. He's the resident IT specialist and if it's recoverable he'll know how to do it or know someone else who'll help.

Doug Riddle said...

Oh John, that is a heartbreaker. I agree about contacting a computer pro and see what they might be able to do for you.

And I know probably don't want to hear this right now, but a suggestion for the future....set up a Yahoo email account for each new book and at the end of each day email the days work to the account. You can access the information from anywhere, download to as many computers as you want, as many times as you want and the original email is still saved there. I only recently heard about this idea myself and almost feel out of my easy, so simple...why had I never thought of it.

Again, sorry for your pain.

Josh Schrank said...


I don't want to pry where help isn't needed, but if you want I can get a couple of my mac tech's to look at it. It's possible that they won't be able to retrieve anything, however there is no harm trying. The important thing now is to NOT save anything else to the hard drive until retrieval is attempted.

Feel free to email me or give me a call if you need the help.

Sara said...

I've never posted here, but found out you had a blog, and this one in particular hit home.

I don't think there's anyone that hasn't encountered a situation like this.

It sucks that we have to learn the hard way how to organize and backup files buy suffering a monumental loss. My brother informed me that as a software engineer he has a whole version control system for all code he writes. So basically backup is intrinsic to his system so there can never be a "Crap! I overwrote this file!" situation.

And unlike the very encouraging words of others, unfortunately I don't believe you'll be able to recover that file. Overwriting a file is very much a permanent state unless you have your computer auto-saving backups of your files.

Now if you were a cube-jockey writing this file on a laptop hooked up to a server, your file might've been backed up on their server overnight.

Otherwise you're out of luck. I recommend indulging in something that will lift the spirits. If it were me, it would entail a good glass of Merlot, a slice of Godiva cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory, and perhaps a round or two of my video game of choice (usually something involving exploding monsters or the like.)

Helga said...

Sorry to hear that John.
Don´t do anything on your computers, and take them to a computer specialist a.s.a.p.
There is some kind of software available that could possibly recover most of the data.
Hope it will be recovered soon.
Best wishes, Helga

John said...

Thanks to all of you. Tried emailing you, Josh, but it bounced back! Anyway, have begun to soldier on, and the process of writing the lost material again has already begun. Could have been worse, I guess.

Josh Schrank said...


Not sure why it bounced, but here are both of my email addresses.

Seriously, if you haven't saved anything to disc yet, it might not be too late. Data isn't placed down exactly on top of things you are replacing, it is placed on the first open area the disc has available. Even if the file is over-written, the data may still be available. We can try and get it for you, albeit in rather plain text form. I am assuming however, the words are what are important to you, not the formatting at this point. Jayne also has my email and I believe my phone number if you need it.

Dana King said...

I once had a laptop computer with quite a bit of work stolen from my car. Friends asked if I had backed everything up on floppies. (This was a while ago.) I said, sure. They were in the case with the laptop.


David said...

Hi John I know this isnt exactly the same but using commercial and free tools I recovered a bunch of mp3 that I have accidentally deleted.

This post seemed to help others in a similar situation
File Scavenger (http:/

Marcus Sakey said...

Jesus. I can't even imagine the feeling, John. All my sympathy. I think I'd be tempted just to start something new at that point.

Anyway, this gets filed in the woulda-been-a-lot-more-helpful-last-week category, but you might want to look at a program called Mozy ( It's a very simple utility that scans your computer when you aren't using it, notices what's changed, and automatically uploads those files to a remote server. Unlimited space on the server runs $5 a month; the software itself is free. Setup takes 5 minutes, and then you never again have to worry. It's the best $60 I spend every year.

Meanwhile, again, shit--sorry, brother.

Charles Gramlich said...

All I can say is, "ouch!"

cs harris said...

Now THAT's a horror story. I print out each day's work on paper. I always thought I was being old fashioned, but I like something I can hold in my hand. Then again, I don't write when I travel, and my words aren't anywhere near as beautiful as yours.

Jeff said...

Sorry you're having to deal with this, John.

Ali Karim said...

Well a little good news to cheer your heart after this crisis -

I loved THE UNQUIET and an excited about THE REAPERS


TomH said...

I had half the damned thing written and the system crashed (physically and metaphorically). I know it sounds so much a version of the dog eating my homework, but it’s true.

Round One resulted in three years of illness and anger and confusion. Months and months of court dates, and then a brief reprieve, seemed to settle things out. But then, fresh beginnings were stifled by even more of the unexpected. Bring on Round Two, and more of the unwanted this and that. The whole of it came unraveled and resulted in creative memory as model for tabulae rasae.

But now there is resignation, and even more than reprieve.

Point is, when things are going on and there’s clutter in your life, it’s natural for some of us to be stressed and preoccupied. It doesn’t take much at all to be thrown for a loop. And that’s the human side of it. Upside for you is the end result. I’m more than willing to bet the farmstead that efforts at replacing all that you lost will result in even richer detail.

My system (cheapo DELL desktop that it is) really did crash. But that’s okay. I’ve since learned to rely on portable SanDisk and PNY.

The only enemy now is Father Time, and he’s been fair about all the rest.

Laure Eve said...


My heart stopped briefly in sympathy when i read this - i've only had it happen to me once, and it was just an essay.

I frequently have nightmares about losing my laptop or the datastick which has all my current work on.

This may distract you for half a minute:

Unless you despise cute things. In which case, i can only apologise.

Richard B. said...

Oh John... soo sorry to hear this. I understand the feelings you are going through though... had it happen to me once, lost tons of material. All you can do is sit and stare at the machine. Hang in there.

normski-beat said...

Sympathies John. Just a thought though, as one who tries to be optimistic whatever the scenario, maybe your re-write will prove even better, if such a thing is possible (!) than the original.

Not exactly the same scale I know, but I write meditational thoughts for the day, which frequently turn into epic tales for the month. On occasion I have accidentally lost major pieces of writing and, after the initial 'aarrrggghhhh!' moment, sat down to start again and found myself more enlightened than before, in my own humble opinion.

Really hope you find the right wavelength again, your work is exceptional. Can't wait for Reapers, though Black Angel is undoubtedly my fav.

Every cloud...silver lining...

xanadoolittle said...

John, man, it's agony just reading about it. I think you should leave the room and get drunk.

Meanwhile, my heart goes out, sir. Truly. Damn indeed.


Betty said...

I thought I was bad by blind copying wrong receivers into mails. How on earth did you manage that?

Lorraine said...

I'm so very sorry. What a dreadful thing to have happened.

TomH said...


I hope someone contacted you with a ‘fix’ for the problem.

I’d like to offer a comment. How many of us have had instances of the like, and kept the whole of it secret? The natural inclination for ‘screwing up’, is to cover up.

There is of course the alternative. But that choice is oftentimes impossible to even consider.

You coose to 'share', by exposing the good with the bad, baring your soul in an effort to show or tell. You open your world in generous manner for others to see.

That is what I enjoy so much about this Blog. Cleaving talent to fame, while maintaining the common touch, cannot be easy. Possessing skills beyond average, and succeeding in a world of high stress, cluttered by schedules made and kept, could render cowards of us all.

Thank for sharing the good with the bad and for allowing a generous glance inside the world of a world class writer.

Joe said...

Crap! Buggery Bollocks, P$%£s, son-of-b!&£$ - aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

Been there, done that... serious empathy coming your way.
Hope it all works out.

Anonymous said...

Maybe hell is not knowing your ancestry. You may have already had time to chew on my comments on your discussion forum, John, but if you always like a back up then here it is. I've seen Billy Connolly on TV and read his book in addition to studying James Connolly a bit from a book written by Malacy McCourt (green party candidate for NYS governer). I'm wondering where we may have any similarities in terms of geneolgy, since I bear the same last name as you. I have had barely any relationship with my father, John Connolly of NYC...he never bothered to tell me about his parents and grandparents or about tracing his, our, roots back to Ireland. Some might say we should through Scotland into the mix too, right?

I'm sensitive to how verbose I can be and I'm wondering how much I should talk about since this is a public forum. Would you like to talk more about this? I have request numerous other books at my library from other Connollys to see if it would enlighten me at all.

I've also written numerous essays, my sociology thesis was on the velvet revolution. I also have a book that is very disorganized tentatively called Blind in Berkeley about a blind stock brocker I worked for for a spell. My thoughts go in many different directions sometimes, reflected in some of my writing. I read some of one of your books before I studied in Prage at Charles University, and one of our trips was to Kutna Hora as you focus on in Black Angel, which I'm reading now.

What are your thoughts and inclinations? I've been to the UK but not Ireland...someday.

Annie Chen said...

I feel sorry for your loss. But I have faith in you that you will overcome your frustrations very soon. What is lost cannot be found, and all we have to do is to move on. Moreover, think on the bright side, maybe it's a blessing in disguise. You've got so many comments from your fans. Don't you feel blessed that so many people care about you? Besides, your rewrite may be better than the first draft....If the higher power gives you a piece of shit, use it as fertilizer. Before long, there will be beautiful roses in your garden in the spring.

AnnaRaven said...

Hi It´s my first comment here but I´ve been reading your blog for quite a long time. I -adored- The book of Lost Things and now I´m totally hooked to Nocturnes.
I do understand your frustration, it happened to me on my second year of the PHD when I was almost ready to submit my "First Year Report".
I overcame it with lots of tea and patience ... But the previous comments are totally right, even when you think your mind doesn´t remember a single word of the work -brilliant job, according to your memories, so brilliant it would not be better if you rewrite it again- you´ve lost, you´ll find yourself back on the right track really soon.