How, and how often, do you back up your work?

I use a flash drive. Also known as a thumb drive, jump drive, or memory stick. It looks like this:


I actually have about eight or ten of these little guys, in various colors and with varying capacities, from 1 gig up to 32 gigs. The 32 gig one contains nothing but pictures; it’s a sort of 21st-century photo album.

But the red one has my novel on it. And a week ago, I lost it.

I wrote a post several months ago in which I mentioned how obsessed I am with backing up all my work, but as it turns out, even with best intentions and backups of backups of backups, none of my most recent work was backed up at all.

In fact, as far as my laptop is concerned, the last time I backed up the whole flash drive was in May.

I spent all of last summer researching and writing. Months’ worth of work. Gone.

It reminded me of the haiku:

     With searching comes loss

     and the presence of absence:

     “My Novel” not found.*

I remember the first time I read that haiku, a good fifteen years ago, and the way it froze the blood in my veins to even imagine such an error message. I never thought it was funny.

And here I was, literally, novel not found.

I do have a hard copy of the collection, which I printed out in October, but none of the new writing or revision work I’ve done since then is backed up anywhere.

I recalled all the times I thought, “Oh, I’ll do it later.”

Later is too late.

“Well, when did you last have it?” asked my practical husband.

I didn’t know. I was too panicked to think. A week ago, I thought. Maybe a week since I’d seen it or used it. I was grading papers all week.

Of course we took the house apart in search of it. Tom crawled around on the floor shining a flashlight under all the furniture. Nope. We looked under every rug in the house (Scrabble, one of our cats, has a habit of stealing things off tables and hiding them under the rugs). Nope. I checked the washer, the dryer, the laundry basket, and every pocket in everything I’d worn for the past month while Tom checked every cranny of both cars. Nope. We even sifted through the vacuum cleaner contents.


“Check the couch cushions,” he said.

“I did,” I said.

My kids helpfully suggested I use the hard copy of the novel as a reference to rewrite the whole book. “That’s a sure way to find it,” one of them said. “Because you know as soon as you type the last word, it will turn up.”

Thanks, guys.

The search went on for three days.

On the fourth day, in utter desolation, I went upstairs to my office. I rarely go up there these days because ever since I injured my knee a week before Christmas, the stairs have posed a big challenge. But I wanted to be alone, and that’s the best place to find me when I don’t want to be found.

I decided to lie down and just go to sleep. But the sofa cushions were crooked. I lifted one to straighten it, and poof, there was the flash drive.

I remembered Tom’s words, three days before: “Check the couch cushions.” But I hadn’t thought to look in these couch cushions. I don’t go up here. How did it get up here? No idea. I don’t care.

Who knew it was possible to hug something so small?


*You can find this haiku and a whole list of related ones here.