How to Avoid a Meltdown: Backup Your Writing!

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 those 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 (and 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 hard drives 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.  See, I’m learning from my mistakes!)


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.  (*cough* like I do *cough*)


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.


Backup methods

Here are a few ways to back up your work and my personal thoughts on them!


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 the last backup if all else fails.

UPDATED: 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.


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’ day 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

Data sticks / USB sticks are pretty cheap, I have small 32GB sticks that can hold everything I ever write.

These are the most versatile and 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.

External Harddrive

Portable but not something I recommend you carry around with you like a data stick.  I have 3 x 1 Tb hard drives that I back up all my work onto.

Two for my writing and the other for my whole computer (writing included) so my writing is backed up threefold (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.

Cloud Storage

As well as several backups, it is highly recommended that you have an offsite backup.  There are loads of different Cloud storage: Dropbox, Just Cloud, iCloud, OneDrive, GoogleDrive, Mega, iDrive to name a few.

I have both Dropbox (the 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.

UPDATED: I no longer use JustCloud due to a backup issue I hard and their awful handling of the situation.  I have now moved to iDrive for my paid version that has been excellent and as well as Dropbox, I also have Mega, which gives 15Gb free!

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 synced 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 back up 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 that can fail, backups have been known to crash and corrupt too.

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 in 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) friend’s house.

After all, all those backups you have at home will be no help if you have a housefire and your tech and backups all go up in flames.

No one likes to think of these things happening and let’s 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 fireproof 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 was then replaced by data sticks and now Cloud systems.

Technology changes rapidly and you want to make sure you keep up.  Otherwise, you could end up with data stored on media that you cannot access!


What method do you use for backing up your work?

Share your Thoughts image.

Happy writing

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Title Image: How to avoid a meltdown: Backup your writing. Image: Padlock shaped like a cloud



13 thoughts on “How to Avoid a Meltdown: Backup Your Writing!

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    1. Very true! I was so happy that I had Cloud storage after the whole “spilling-tea-on-laptop” crisis 🙂 Backing up work is something important that so many writers think “I’ll sort later” but it’s not worth the risk

  5. Reblogged this on eternal scribbler and commented:

    If you follow me on facebook you will know that I managed to kill my laptop this week when I spilt a whole cup of hot tea on it.

    That was followed by a stress worrying whether my cloud had completed its last backup

    So, for anyone who might be a clumsy as me, I am reposting this about backups to remind you all to keep your shit safe!!

    Happy writing

  6. I’m going to add my personal back up solutions as one of those weird writers who jumps from computer to computer.

    So, I’m a commuter. Everyday I have to take a train to work which is an hour commute. In the past this was an hour I used to sleep or read books. Though reading books was fun, it was driving me mad not to get work done.

    So I bought a cheap laptop with Win10 preinstalled. With Win10 comes Microsoft OneDrive which I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend. I’ll explain why in a sec.

    Though I love Scrivener, love it to death. When it comes time to do editing or significant polish, I switch over to Office 2013. My editor only works in office and Scrivener although brilliant for brainstorming and organization, doesn’t have the one thing which makes Office 2013 invaluable.

    Office 2013 let’s you sync your files (like Dropbox) to the OneDrive server. If for some reason the laptop goes down, I have a copy on the cloud and an additional copy whenever I turn on my home PC. With the Onedrive app on my phone and my Kindle, I also have copies of the documents on there too. So if god forbid something failed or an external hard drive failed me, those documents would be backed up.

    I actually did have a hard drive failure earlier in the year. Though I was stressed about losing most of my programs, I knew that my novel was safe and sound being backed up on OneDrive, Dropbox, my laptop, and a few other places.

    OneDrive is free, so if you’re a PC user on Win10, I highly recommend getting on board.

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