Early on in my writing, when I was 13, I wrote a sci-fi novel. It was probably the most I’d ever written by that age and was spread over 2 floppy disks (ahhh showing my age now!). The only copy was on floppy disks.
To my horror, one of them became corrupted. I lost over half the novel and was never able to retrieve it. There are no words to describe the feeling of loss when you lose your writing.
I never went back to that story, though I have all my old drawings, scribbled notes and even the first half still saved and backed up (not on floppy disk any more) I will most likely never return to it.
Losing your work is heart-wrenching. I almost gave up writing after that happened. If you are lucky you may never have suffered this. Enjoy such feelings and do what you can to make sure that if it does, you don’t lose everything.
It can happen to us all
There are a lot of us writers who’ve lost work. There are probably even more who’ve had close calls and have luckily managed to retrieve their work or found extra backups they forget they had.
Tech has not always been my friend, I’ve had computers completely format themselves, data sticks go through the washing machine, CDs get scratched or just refuse to burn all the data… even one of my TB harddrives lasted 2 weeks before losing everything one day. Yes it was faulty and yes the company replaced it… but everything saved on it was gone (but that’s okay, I had other backups!)
Get yourself a system
Suffering a loss is a very sobering thing and will certainly make you get your shit together. However please don’t wait for that to happen, get yourself a backup system now.
Like the How To Organise Your Writing on the Computer post I put up recently, it helps to give your backup system a little thought.
Otherwise you could end up with scraps of data all over and duplicate copies that aren’t version controlled.
How you work
It helps to think a little about how you work – do you write on a laptop? Do you have more than one? Do you share a computer so save work on data sticks?
If you are jumping from computer to computer when you write (yes, people do that…not sure why myself) then you will probably need to think differently about how to back your work up compared to if you use just the same computer.
Here are a few ways to backup your work and my personal thoughts on them!
Originally these were ‘the’ method for backing up your work. However like floppy disks these are becoming obsolete for data storage. I do not recommend using CDs any more.
Mostly because newer laptops and PCs are being made without CD drives. So unless you have an external CD-RW it’s more hassle than it’s worth. Not to mention CDs are easy to damage and scratch. You could use them for your finished work, make two copies and just keep them as a last backup if all else fails.
I know a number of writers who do this. Personally I would create an email address JUST for storing your writing. Hence why you should create a new one, separate from the one you use for friends, family and logins. Use folders inside and email yourself all the scenes, plots etc.
Remember to check storage limit, different email systems have varying storage limits. NOTE: Make sure you go into it every ‘however many’ days you need to keep the email address active. Also, make the password something you will remember and set up a system for password retrieval.
Data sticks / USB sticks are pretty cheap, I have small 32GB sticks that can hold everything I ever write. These are the most versatile I think, they are sturdy (yes the ones that have been through the washing machine have often worked afterwards) compact and if you get the right size, can hold loads.
They are easy to stash, easy to encrypt etc. They are good for transferring your writing especially if you have had to type something on a different computer. I personally keep data sticks for transferring writing etc and then separate ones that are used as backups.
Portable but not something I recommend you carry around with you like a data stick. I have 2 x 1 Tb harddrives that I backup all my work onto.
One for my writing and the other for my whole computer (writing included) so my writing is backed up twice (the full system one is done by using the Windows Backup system). I back up regularly so that I am less likely to lose loads if a problem/crash occurs.
This is where you store your work offsite. There are loads of different Cloud storage: Dropbox, Just Cloud, iCloud, OneDrive, GoogleDrive to name a few.
I have both Dropbox (free version that has limited space for just documents) and JustCloud which I pay for annually to give me all the storage space I need for everything. Now Cloud allows you to synchronise and schedule a backup automatically.
There are some pros and cons to this. The Pro is that your work is backed up without you having to worry, you select a folder(s) and a mirrored version is created on Cloud. At the scheduled backup the documents are sync’ed and saved on Cloud.
The con is that it IS mirrored so unless you check your settings if you accidentally deleted your folders, the synchronisation would then helpfully delete your files on Cloud as well… unless you broke the synchronisation before the schedule.
So while Cloud is great, do make sure you are aware of the settings you have listed and what can happen. Might be that you prefer to manually upload your files. Everyone has their own preference so check out different cloud storage and decide which one is for you.
Divide and Conquer
So the above are some of the ways you can backup your work. These should not be considered as either / or. The best backup system is by having multiple backups that are independent of each other and if possible in different locations.
Remember it’s not just your laptop or computer than can fail, backups have been known to crash and corrupt to. So having a single backup system won’t protect you if that fails too. However the likelihood of say 3 or more backup systems all failing at once is pretty low.
Location, location, location
No matter what backup systems you decide to put it place (remember, aim for 3 at least!) One of them should be offsite – whether it’s using email or cloud or just encrypting a data stick and leaving it at a (trustworthy) friends house.
Having a dozen backups dotted around your house can be a great way of protecting yourself… unless you tragically have a house fire. No one likes to think of these things happening and lets hope it never does, but if it did…. you could lose your work in minutes.
We have smoke alarms, we know the drill to get the family, the pets out and there isn’t much time for anything else. It takes a very short time for a fire to devastate a house and suddenly all those backups inside are gone.
You can try a fire proof safe but many of them aren’t quick to guarantee that electronic media will be 100% protected.
Just something to think about.
A final note on obsolescence
Keep up with the times, when I was young floppy disks were the systems used for backing up data. They were then replaced by CDs that are now being replaced by data sticks and Cloud systems etc.
Technology changes rapidly and you want to make sure you keep up. Otherwise you could end up with data stored on medias that you cannot access!
That’s all for backing up your work, so go out there and get your shit backed up!!!
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