Rescue your Darlings by Kenji Crosland

This post is part of the Guest Post Giveaway at the blog Unready and Willing. If you think articles about writing or personal development (or personal development for writers) sounds like a good fit for your blog, please take a look at the Guest Post Giveaway page and see if any of the articles spark your interest.

You may be familiar with the phrase “Murder your Darlings.” This is the mantra repeated over and over again by teachers of the revision process. For many writers this is a painful ordeal that seems to take the life from a piece. Painful as it is, cutting out the parts that seem most precious to you is essential in polishing your work. Oftentimes when an editor will suggest that you cut a passage out of your story or novel, it’ll be one of your favorite sections–this is probably because you felt very good writing it. You were in the flow, and everything that fell onto the page just “felt right” to you. And now this editor wants you to cut it? To trash it as though it never existed? How could they be so cruel?

Is this the part of the writing process that you hate the most? Do hate the feeling that the passages that you had had so much pleasure writing will not see the light of day? I certainly did when I started out writing, but there are good reasons for cutting the fat. Although certain passages are beautifully written, they may do nothing to contribute to a story’s plot or give any insight to the characters. Exchanges of dialogue, though clever, may not really be important at all. The character that you snuck into chapter three was forced into the story just because you thought he or she was interesting. Lost in the flow of your writing, you might have spent two paragraphs describing a horse-carriage and not even know it. These passages simply don’t belong.

Instead of getting out your ax and murdering your darlings right then and there, however, why not consider dropping them off at the orphanage so that another story might be able to pick them up? Essentially you can create a database of written material that just didn’t make the cut for your other stories. Not only does this take some of the pain out of revision, but it also can give you a place to access characters, descriptions, and clever turns of phrases that simply didn’t fit in your other work. Whenever you feel writer’s block coming on, you can infuse some of the good stuff you didn’t use from your previous work into your new one.

To establish this orphanage, create a folder on your computer for your rescued darlings and then make sub-folders with names like “characters,” “descriptions,” “dialogues,” “settings,” and so on. Every time you cut a substantial part from your story, copy it and paste into a new document. Title the document in a way that you’ll be able to recognize it easily when you come back to it. Your “settings” folder would have documents titled “Roadside Cafe,” “African Village” and so on. The “Characters” folder could have documents with the character names, or just a short description like: “Nerdy Mobster” or, “Obsessive-Compulsive Stockbroker.”

Personally I find that I tend not to use too many of my rescued darlings in my new work. It’s comforting, however, to know that they’ll always be there waiting should you ever need them.

Kenji Crosland is a creative writing major who, scared of becoming a starving artist, became a corporate headhunter in Tokyo. Since then he’s regained his sanity, quit his job, and now blogs about creating an ideal career at unreadyandwilling.com. He is also developing a web application that just might change the internet. Follow him on Twitter: @KenjiCrosland.

Have you ever cut a part of your story that you really wished you’d kept? What do you do with the darlings you cut? Have you used a character or scene that didn’t make the cut in one story for another? What kinds of safety nets do you use when editing and revising your work?

Back Up Now, Back Up From Now On!

Yesterday, a very dear online writer friend of mine mentioned on plurk that her blog was acting strangely. It sure was! When I checked it out, along with a dozen other people, what we saw was a page of content that went down in one cumbersome lump. One of the downsides of using Cascading Style Sheets. If the .css page fails to load, your site gets really ugly!

Not A CSS Issue?

Initially, I thought it was a simple problem and offered a simple solution to her plea for help. Unfortunately, the problem was no where near as simple as we originally thought. As she called in the troupes I set about scanning her files to check that the CSS file DID exist, it WAS being called/included correctly in the headers, the files required by the CSS file existed, etc. But as I was diligently checking these details someone or something was doing something very untoward.

Databases and WP-Admin Cookies

I’d reached the point where I was checking settings in the database. Now, most Web hosts make this easy with MySQL and phpMyAdmin panel. The database looked a little cluttered but everything should have been working perfectly. So, I logged out of the database to check into another area of the site that might be the culprit, the WP-Admin panel. That’s when I discovered that there was another issue. One we still haven’t truly nailed down. For some reason wp-admin was failing to store cookies and it’s failure to do so was leading to an endless loop as the site attempted to log in and attempted to log in and attempted to log in…

OMG! Malicious Attack!

It was time to check the database again so I logged back into phpMyAdmin and my jaw dropped. At least one, perhaps more of the databases were gone. Completely obliterated. They had been there earlier, I’d left them sitting their all nice and pretty, but when I returned it was as if they’d never existed. Someone has their grubby footprints in the backend of my friend’s site.

When you’ve had a malicious attack the first thing to do is to change your password. This, hopefully, bumps them out of your system and sends them back to step one, running keygens to try and discover the new password. You, of course, have selected a gobbledy-gook password of alphanumerics that no one could possibly guess because the truth is you just closed your eyes and threw your cat on your keyboard when choosing it. So, it means Mr. Nasty is held at bay and hopefully will give up and move into new pasture in which to make a mess.

But it still left us with a dilemma because you see while I’d gathered a backup of the original website we were having trouble with, there was no backup for those databases that were now gone. With no backup there is no way to restore the information of what could be weeks, or months, or years of data.

The lesson?

Back Up NOW!!! Honestly, don’t feel like this can’t happen to you. It can! You might be insignificant, your site might get a total of three unique visitors a week but tragedy can strike and you can lose your content. It mightn’t be a hacker, it could be a server fire, electrical failure, magnetic interference, or any number of culprits, the thing that’s important to remember is your site is not fail safe. Bad things do happen.

The Backing Up Process

  1. Change Your Password
  2. Copy your primary site directory into an archive file on your Hard Drive.
  3. Load your phpMyAdmin and export each of your databases as single .sql files.
  4. Zip the primary site directory files and your database files into a neat, dated, archive package.
  5. Email a copy of this package to your online email address (such as gmail, hotmail, yahoo etc.).
  6. Save the archive package to your external hard drive (you do have one don’t you???)
  7. Burn a copy of the archive to disk and file it away from your computer.
  8. Back Up Now, Back Up From Now On! (At least once a month, weekly if you update more frequently.)

Happy Ending?

To tell the truth, over 24 hours later and my friend and I are still working at damage control. We are waiting to hear from her hosting company in hopes that they can at least correct any server related issues. We could beg upon their mercy in the hopes they’ll do a full restore for us but the odds are slim. Yes, the host backs up regularly but they will not (generally) be willing to wade through their massive gigabytes worth of file structure to restore one users information.

I was able to bring the original site back online with it’s CSS intact. It looks pretty again despite not being currently hosted with the original host. We can only hope that this story will have a happy ending and we are already looking for the cosmic message in this tragedy.

Regardless of the outcome of this one case, don’t let it be you. Back up!

Have you experienced something like this? Please share your own experiences in the comments. How has having a backup of your files helped you? Have you had to learn this lesson the hard way like my friend did? Do you have other tips or ideas when it comes to site security and restoration? Share your thoughts!