Remember all those lovely stories you wrote ten years ago and then saved on a disc because the stories showed promise and you didn't want to lose them? Always back up your files, you've been told, and you did. Good girl. Now it's ten years later and you'd like to drag out that old novel, dust it off, and see if there was indeed anything promising in there. Only one problem. You wrote that novel using Apple Works in 1999 and now your computer can't understand that language. Apple Works? What es dis Apple Verks you speek ov? I haf never heard ov Apple Verks.
No matter how much you try, or beg, or plead, or threaten you computer with imminent death, the computer can not recognize the file, and therefore is incapable of showing anything other than "xvnuoairtykhfklavjio hbr349p" when you open the file.
Ten years ago I finished my first novel, a memoir about my best friend Paul who died of AIDS in 1992. It began as a way to heal my own scars from his death and evolved into a story about the power of friendship over death. It is a very personal story to me, and whether or not anyone else ever reads it, I need to turn it into a bound book as a memorial to my friend.
I couldn't open the F*&$KING file.
Luckily I live with a tech guy. I do his laundry, so you'd think he'd have the time to fix my novel. Alas, he was swamped with multiple projects as well as finals at school, so had zero time to help (plus, any free time he has needs to be spent on the Punk book, not on a novel I wrote so long ago it's barely readable).
And then I was rescued by another techy friend, a Mac guy none the less. He took my files and after some maneuvering transfered my old files into something my computer could read: rich text file (rtf). Hooray for people who collect Macintosh products and know how to use them!
I have learned a very valuable lesson from this experience. Making a back-up of your files is good, but making at least one of those back-ups an rtf is better. Just because I'm using "Word for Mac" on my Macbook today doesn't mean that program will be able to read the words I'm writing in 10 years. Computer companies like to update word processing programs every couple of years (sometimes more) and with every update, your old files become less and less compatible.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get to work on a novel that needs A LOT of editing. Let's just say I've learned a lot about writing in the last ten years (I hope). Maybe recovering old text files isn't such a good idea after all.
Thanks again, Scott.