Importance of Back-ups

While this topic isn’t as fun of as some of my others, it is very, very, extremely important for every writer of every genre. Hell, it’s important for anyone who stores their brain children on their computer.

Let’s face it, people, as much as you love your computer and its convenience, the stupid machine does the darnedest things at the worst possible times. I haven’t seen a blue-screen-of-death in years, but have you ever hit the power button and have nothing happen? That’s the worst feeling in the world when you think of all the stories you’ve drafted that are now being held hostage on your malfunctioning hard drive.

This doesn’t have to be you so long as you back-up your work. Please, please, please don’t be one of those people who thinks nothing like system crashes or viruses or whatever will ever happen to you. You’re usually the first to fall victim (cliché but true…. hmmm should this have been on my list in the last post?)

I’m here to offer suggestions. Use whichever you like or a combination, just make sure you do one of them. There are no excuses for not doing this, especially after reading this post. If you love your work, then you will find time to do something to protect it.

On with the list:

1 – Print everything
Okay, this is a bit nuts and costly, but it needed mentioning. If you’ve got the ink, paper, and storage space, then go for it. More power to you.

2 – CDs or DVDs
If you have enough literary works on your harddrive to fill up a DVD then I’m in awe of you and you are a writing god. 😉 I know artists’ works take up way more room than a standard sized manuscript which is why I listed CDs and DVDs.

This is my poison of choice. I use pocket CD-Rs (210MB, 50 in a pack). I currently have 4 spools and I’m working on my third. Whenever I make any changes to anything, whether it be current or future or just brainstorming, I make a backup CD. It takes like five minutes. I don’t compromise this rule. If I so much as change a punctuation mark, I’m backing it up before I leave my computer for the day. This may sound paranoid but I sleep well at night knowing my work is safe should my computer decide to fry itself while I’m away.

You might worry about storage space. Don’t. They’re CDs (or DVDs). Shred them once they get to a certain age, like six months or something. Please don’t just throw them away… unless you don’t mind someone else publishing your work. And if you don’t own a shredder, I’m going to have to smack you (that’s a discussion for later).

There is a warning for this suggestion: Beware rewritable media. You may mistakenly write over your back-up and then it’s gone and you’re back to square one. Not to mention, rewritables wear out after a while.

3 – Flash/Thumb Drives and Memory Cards
I also have a PDA with a 512 memory card (waaaay more room than I’ll ever need). Just like with the pocket CDs, whenever I update my works, I synchronize with my PDA thus saving them on my memory card. This is mostly so I can work on my stories when I’m away from my computer.

The fun of drives or cards is you can carry your manuscripts around with you and work on them whenever you get to a computer with your word processing software. Or, go my route and get a PDA, which ever.

Another warning: Don’t lose it! Most thumb and flash drives come on key chains so you can keep track of them. If you put your memory card in then remember to take it out. As added protection, figure out how to encrypt the data. If you have to put a password on every single file then do it. At least then you know your works are safe if you happen to misplace or lose the drive/card somewhere. Don’t use obvious passwords, like the title of the work. I think the best password would be the name of some throwaway character in that particular book — no one would ever guess… hell, you may even forget. ;P

4 – Friends and Family
You’ve got beta readers (I should hope… oh god, please have beta readers or a critique group… I feel scared) or that one family member who wants to read everything you’ve written two seconds after you write it. Use these people (not that you aren’t already).

If you trust someone to sit on your manuscripts as a backup, do it. Said person may not want daily emails of the same manuscript because you changed a “but” to a “because”, but they’ll keep the current most incarnation safe. If something happens, you may not have the version with the “because” in but at least you don’t have to start over from scratch.

Your editor, if you have one, might not mind sitting on your manuscripts for you either. It gives them the chance to read stuff while you’re working on it.

The only problem with this is if their computer crashes too. (I’m just a ray of sunshine, aren’t I?)

5 – Website
In my opinion, use this option last and sparingly and be very careful. For those people who are paying for their domain name and web hosting and you can upload whatever you want, upload your manuscripts. This doesn’t mean you have to link to them. Stick them in a password protected file (can’t emphasize that enough), and they are at your fingertips whenever and where ever.

I warn of caution because of hackers or just the random person with dumb luck. If someone gets into your index file then they will see you have your manuscripts on your site. This is where the password comes in handy. Slap a password on the file where the manuscripts are housed and whoever may know they’re there but they can’t get to them. If you want to be really paranoid, password the folder they’re in and then password the files themselves.

6 – Second Hard Drive
Some people have multiple hard drives, for what ever reason. A second hard drive just for your work isn’t a bad idea if you’ve got the money for it. External hard drives are just larger versions of thumb/flash drives. They do the same things but the external has way more space so you can back up everything not just your work.

Besides the bulkiness of it, I can’t think of a downside to having a second hard drive… unless it gets the same virus that took out your main hard drive. Did I mention I’m a devil’s advocate in my free time, otherwise known as a cynic (actually, I think I mentioned that in one of my earlier posts)?

A second hard drive can also be a laptop if you use a desktop and vice versa, or two separate laptops.

7 – Email Yourself
For those of us who use internet-based mail clients like Gmail and Hotmail and Yahoo et al, one of the easiest back-ups is emailing your manuscript to yourself. Depending on your connection speed, this takes little to no time at all.

If you have multiple internet-based accounts (like me) then designate one account as a holding cell for your work. Email it to that address and file it away in a folder you designate. Just make sure not to reach the host’s space allowance or they’ll start deleting from the oldest to the newest.

This may seem obvious to some, but I feel the need to mention this doesn’t work if you are using Outlook or any other program that runs off your computer. You face the same problem you did before, since you sent it from your computer to your computer. It essentially didn’t move.

8 – Develop Photographic Memory
This is obviously a gag, but I had to say it. The person with a photographic memory never has to worry about backups. They’ll just bitch about having to re-write it all but not having to re-imagine it.

9 – Use a Typewriter
This is only partially a gag. The age of typewriters is gone and it’s a shame.
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That’s all I can think of. If you have other suggestions, post them in the comments section for others to take advantage of.

I hope everyone will take this seriously. I’ve heard too many horror stories of lost work in the last two months. Condolences are nice, suggestions after the fact are appreciated, but options of preventative measures are much better.

Even if you write until you can’t see straight, un-blur your eyes long enough to back up your work. Tired and sleepy beats pissed off any day.

On a side note: Archive your blog entries in dated text files on your hard drive on the off chance that your blog host may decide to dump your blog. This has already happened to a few people.

I’ve done my civic duty for the week. Next week’s topic is another must read for authors and soon-to-be authors: Good Advice Every Writer Should Know and Heed – this is all the stuff I’ve picked up since I’ve started writing and I’m passing it on so everyone can benefit.

One Comment

  1. OMG…and I thought I did it all. Great post. I learned the hard way, too. My laptop crashed and took with it 6 chapters of two different stories. I wanted to cry!

    Since then I back up all my work…twice! I keep a CD copy in the house and another one on me at all times. Just in case the house burns down, or something:)

    Once in a while I do e-mail myself something.

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