First, a little tale:
I was writing my novel in Scrivener. It was late at night, the children and the wife were in bed and I was tired but still wanted to finish that chapter before calling it a night. I felt safe that my work was being periodically saved, without my needing to do so manually; and I had a backup from the night before: I always backed up before shutting down.
Now, all I needed to help me wrap up that chapter was my brandy nightcap. So I went into the living room to fetch it and gladly took the opportunity to stretch my legs a little: it had been a good few hours with me stuck to that chair. Then I headed back to the study, glass in hand. I was already anticipating being tucked away in bed for a well deserved night’s sleep, another hard fought chapter under the belt. Yes, the book was starting to shape up rather nicely…
When I got to the door I found it odd that it was wide open. I always left it closed because I didn’t want the cat to sneak in and make a bed out of some (very few) refused manuscripts I had lying around.
I came in and stopped near the door. Sitting in my chair, in front of the computer, was Mary, my six year old. The lone lamp in front of her cut out a black silhouette of child and chair. It just happened that sometimes my daughter had nightmares and wandered out of her room, looking for her parents to comfort her.
I put down my drink as a sense of impending doom started to work on my throat. I approached the desk and gently placed my hand on her shoulder, trying not to shake.
“So, what is my little girl doing out of bed this late at night? Not having another one of those nasty dreams, was she?”, I said, noticing, with growing horror, the short distance between her small fingers and the keyboard.
“No, not this time, Dad!”, came the prompt reply. She turned her face to me, giggling excitedly. I tried to caress her cheek, but my hands failed me; I knew what was coming. “This time it was a nice dream. I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. I had to tell it to Mom or you. I didn’t find anyone but came in here and saw the computer on. And you’ve told me to always write down any really good ideas that I have. So I thought my dream was actually a very good idea and wrote it down. Look!”, ordered she, pointing at the screen.
I obeyed, finally facing what I hadn’t dared to since I had entered the room. The display was almost entirely blank, save for a few lines in the centre. I could see by its title that this was the document I was writing on when I went down. The vanishing of the scroll bar further informed me that the dozen or so pages I had spent all morning, afternoon and evening writing were gone. All that text had been deleted, obviously to leave a clean sheet for this alternative literary work, authored by my six year old daughter. And – of course – due to the auto-saving system, it had been thoroughly overwritten on disk, relegated to the utterest digital nothingness.
The world twisted round. I sat in another chair, head in hands, eyes closed. I was incapable of coherent thought. Mary was talking but I couldn’t understand her; I just heard the cheerful sound of her words. Eons seemed to pass.
Then, all of a sudden, I stumbled out of my stupor. Undo! Control zed! Undo, Undo, Undo!!! How could I not have thought of that most intuitive of actions??? All I had to do was press the magic key combination and every single evil of this world would be undone back to the Garden of Eden… or close enough for me, at any rate.
I jumped to my feet and set my eyes on that empty screen once more; not in fear and defeat this time, but with a heart full of valour and resolve.
In two steps I was beside the desk again. Mary was now sitting back in the work chair, her short legs fully stretched on the seat, and she kept on chattering about something or other, unencumbered by my prolonged silence. I still had to repossess my commandeering post before I could correct the harm that had been done and set all things to rights. I turned to her with what I hoped to be an air of authority.
But she just went on: “…so it was a really, really brilliant dream, Dad. And your ideas are brilliant too. You do that too, don’t you, Dad? You write down your ideas too. After writing my dream, I clicked on those little notes on the left and read them. I liked them but couldn’t understand some of them. I think they are too complicated. So I came back to mine.” She went to the front of the chair, crossed her legs, planted her elbows on the desk and held her pretty face in her hands. “Don’t you like it better than yours, Dad?”, she asked, grinning at me.
This time I just froze. I kept staring at her, my organism unable to function in a world suddenly turned so unfair. My mask of sternness went unnoticed by the underage critic in front of me; I tried to swap it for something more in tune with my inner collapse, but to no avail.
Mary had changed documents. She had deleted all the text in the document that was selected, written her own little thing and then she had actually gone and changed documents before returning to the first one.
That meant no undo-type shenanigans would be taking place tonight. No siree.
I returned to the doom-chair, spent a few more eons there holding my head in my hands and then I noticed that I was not actually feeling anything much anymore, except sleep. I stood up, took the untouched brandy and gulped it down. Then I picked my daughter up — by that time she was also very sleepy — took her to bed, tucked her in and kissed her goodnight.
“Tomorrow I’ll tell her that she shouldn’t touch the computer without asking first”, I thought to myself, futilely. “Of course, she’ll still do as she pleases”.
As I was leaving the bedroom, she said quietly, peeping from between the sheets and almost dozing off:
“Dad, don’t you think I’m right? I mean, what I wrote in the computer?”
“Sure, honey; quite right”, I replied, not certain of what to say. “Now, see if you can have some more of those brilliant dreams”.
I was now almost asleep myself, dreaming that everything was fine with my novel and I had finally completed that difficult last chapter.
But before going to bed and turning that into virtuality for a few hours, there was still one final hurdle to be crossed. I returned to the study: I still had to shut down that despicable machine. Somehow, that night I didn’t think I would be making a back up of anything…
I entered and went straight to the desk. “This may be the end of the line for you, my friend!”, I childishly thought as I bent down to grab the mouse and command the thing to go to sleep, as we humans do. “Only difference is you may not wake up in the morning”, the little devil on my shoulder added.
The moment my finger was about to press “Shutdown”, my eye, very close to the monitor screen, could not avoid reading, for the first time, the beginning of Mary’s brief composition. And then the rest of it. I sat.
[size=85]I had a dream and it was Mom’s birthday. So I drew her a picture of the four of us. Mom, Dad, me and Mr. Sleepy, the cat. Oh, and Timmy too. We were all around the table waiting for Mom to blow the cake’s candles (in the picture). Then (in my dream) I took the picture to Dad’s study and made a copy of it in that machine Dad has there. Then I put that copy on Mom’s side of their bed as a surprise for her. Then I decided to put some more things in the picture, like flowers and clowns and hippopotamuses but I didn’t like that and threw it away. Just the four (five) of us is better. So I think it was a brilliant idea to have made that copy! (In my dream.)[/size]
Now I knew what she meant. And she was right. A safe copy is always a brilliant idea.
Well, I too had a copy of my own overwritten work.
In my dreams.
Second, my opinion:
Much as I like Scrivener – and I won’t enumerate here all its qualities, because we all know and love them (I always think that, within a group that loves something and is devoted to it, it is the bad aspects that are worth discussing, so that the thing can be perfected) –, I must say that, as long as Scrivener does not allow the user to either turn off auto-saving or redirect it to a folder which is not the original project folder, it is flawed. More so with the current severe limitations of the Undo function, which, in the context of a single document, is gone as soon as one leaves that document, and doesn’t work on the project as whole – undoing and redoing the creation, deletion and moving of documents, etc.