As noted above, there's a name for the hookup I use that would explain it perfectly, naturally I can't think of it at the moment.
Essentially, I bought a carry case for a spare harddrive that has it's own power supply and connects to the cpu through the USB port.
I bought it last year and received numerous error messages when I tried to write to it, all involving "failed write delay". I stopped using the carry case and occasionally just popped the cpu case and plugged the spare drive into the ribbon running the cdrw. That didn't last long. Too much hassle. I just packed it all away.
Couple of weeks ago I tried again and it worked fine through the usb port for many backups over the next week or so. Rebooted my computer and now, no matter how many times I reboot, I can no longer (again) copy anything to the external drive unless I disconnect the ribbon from the cdrw, etc. Then it works great.
I know that unless my backups are as easy as plugging this backup drive into a table top connection that I'm going to find (ultimately expensive) excuses for avoiding backups. Anyone with any ideas on how to resolve my "failed write delay" problem through the usb port?