Back It Up! A Good Habit For Authors

Wicked Witch Thumb DriveWhen I first started writing, my instrument of choice was a Selectric typewriter that sat on our formal dining room table. I had stacks of white paper, typewriter ribbons, and bottles of white-out at ready. Being only a teenager, I did not realize that you needed to make at least one copy of your work at the local copy center before you submitted your work to publishers. I was isolated without other writers to speak to about the craft and no one in my family had contracted this madness that we call writing. I made the mistake of sending off the one and only original copy of my second novel to Ace Publishing. They held it for eight months. I was put in the position that if they lost the manuscript or if it got lost in the mail, I would have lost two years of work. The troubles we create for ourselves when we are 17! I wrote a plea to Ace, asking them to return the manuscript and two weeks later it arrived with a rejection letter. I never sent the novel out again.

Technology and the world has changed a great deal from my days of typing away on the dining room table. Most of us do the bulk of our writing on computers or tablets. Yet, many of the backup practices that I should have used as a teenager are still useful today, just in slightly different forms. Don’t be caught as I was. Back up your work.

Since we all live in a digital age, creating a simple paper copy of your work and storing it in a file cabinet is not the only option for backing up our stories as it was in the past. I still do this back up method with the final revisions of my work as a last resort. Paper can be stable for decades, even a century or two given good storage practices, with the exception that it is susceptible to fire and other natural disasters. What I like about the paper method is that I can put each story into a file folder with a label and I know that the words there will never change. It has a certain finality in its physical presence that I find comforting.

My writing program of choice is Scrivener. In addition to its intuitive way of supporting my writing style, it also has many ways to automatically back up your work. Every two seconds, or if you stop writing for a moment, Scrivener will automatically back up your current project file. It is not necessary to click on save, as you once had to with Word or other word processors of the past, it takes care of that basic function for you. Every time you close the program, it creates a backup copy of your file in another folder in addition to the regular backup of your project file. You can also set Scrivener to do a dated backup of your project file into Dropbox. This means that you have two copies of each project on your home computer and one in the cloud. All of this is done automatically by Scrivener, once you have set everything up, you can forget that it is there and know that a basic backup system is in place. I have the habit of closing Scrivener at the end of the day. This insures that I have a new trio of backups of whatever project file I’m working on that day.

In addition to the backups that Scrivener does, I also backup my current projects to a thumb drive that hangs behind my writing desk on a lanyard. I do this backup once a week when I’m drafting during Nanowrimo. During this time, I have thousands of words coming into my Scrivener writing program from different sources: my Alphasmart Neo, a laptop and sometimes my souped up NEC MobilePro 800. It would be very easy to lose files during this time. The extra step of the thumb drive gives me added protection in case I have a hardware crash on the way to the coffeehouse or if a virus takes over my computer and wipes things out. It is digital, but off line, much like my cloud backup is. I would not completely rely on a thumb drive because the device only has a shelf life of around seven years. They are prone to destruction due to heat, such as happens in your car on a hot summer day. My main thumb drive stays in my purse and my studio back up remains here in my home where it is not subject to excessive heat.

A final method of backup is the old-fashioned CD Rom or DVD. I do not use these for the backing up of drafts and revisions, I tend to leave that on the cloud, thumb drive, and on my computer, but when I make a paper copy of a completed final draft, I also put a digital copy onto a CD Rom and store it in my bank box. Our bank is far enough away that if a fire took my home, my CD Roms would be safe at the bank. CDs are small enough that you can tuck a couple of them into a bank box with ease. They are also more stable than thumb drives in my opinion. If you would rather not take on the expense of a bank box, sending a CD Rom to a family member that lives in a different location than yourself is also an option.

Backing up your work as an author is important. In our modern age of computer hardware failure and virus attacks, our information is unsafe in storage. Do not let yourself be caught with losing months or years of your work. Make sure you have several methods of saving your writing in place. Have a good labeling system that allows you to see what are revisions and what is a final version. Make backing up a regular habit.

10 thoughts on “Back It Up! A Good Habit For Authors”

  1. Thank you for this timely reminder. It made me ask, um…actually when did I last back up.
    How something so vital can go forgotten is a mystery, but it happens.

    1. I still have my first novel, that I wrote when I was 4 or 5 years old, all written in child’s scrawl. It is really more a novella. I still have it and the one that I wrote as a teen tucked away in a filing cabinet. I’m not sure if I would revisit them. I’ve changed a great deal in the interval of time between then and now. I’d rather focus on the new stories that my muse patiently waits for me to find time for. Still, they represent a great deal of learning and time during my childhood.

      1. I don’t see why not. I often wonder about writers that throw away their old stuff or delete it. Storage of digital content takes up no additional space, so why not keep it? You never know where the next idea for your newest work will come from.

      2. This is why I like having the paper backup. True, it is more difficult to put back into digital form, but it remains unchanged and in a format that doesn’t go out of style.

  2. Excellent advice, especially the concept of backing up on multiple media. I love the safety and convenience of cloud backups.

    I would add one caveat about the thumb drives. Always stop and un-mount the drive before removing it. I’ve had to spend hours recovering files from flash drives that friends have yanked out of a usb slot before stopping it.

    Nine times out of ten you’ll get away with it. But, if the computer is writing to the drive while it’s removed, the TOC is almost certainly scrambled.

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