Tips for Writers: Back up!


Usually in my Friday Tips for Writers I focus on some element of craft—how to make your work the best it can be. But today I’m going with something more mundane: on a regular basis, backup your work.
If you don’t, I promise someday you’ll be sorry. Your computer will crash or get zapped by a power surge (you do have a surge protector, don’t you?), or will mysteriously disappear from your hard drive (because a certain four year old has been pressing buttons he shouldn’t). Or your computer will be stolen, or you’ll lose your laptop on the redeye from LA to New York, or your house ill burn down, or . . . . And when that happens, your 900 page novel, or your collected poems, or your killer screenplay will be lost to the ages, unless you can recreate it.
Here are some good habits to get into:
  •  Every now and then while you’re working, save your work. In Microsoft Word there is an autosave feature, and that’s nice, but if I’m stepping away from the desk for some reason, or stalling, I’ll hit ctrl+s in order to make sure the most recent work is locked into the file. It’s an “abundance of caution” that I don’t feel the least bit guilty about. I almost don’t think about it anymore.
  •  Most days, when I close the file I’m working (my novel, for example), I will copy the file to my account. Dropbox is one of many “storage units” you can find on the Internet. When you sign up for the service (which is free unless you need to backup huge amounts of data), you download an icon to your computer that functions basically like another drive, but one that you can access from other computers. This has the added benefit of allowing me to work on the same document from other computers. There are other ways of accomplishing the same thing, including using Google Docs. 
  • Periodically, I also store work on a USB drive and put a copy on my laptop. Unless I’m traveling, my desktop computer is my primary workstation, so that’s where the most recent copies of my files should be, but the laptop and the USB drive are simply backups.    
  • I don’t have an external hard drive, but I’ve considered getting one, and that would have both storage and backup help that I might one day want. (I do have an old Zip drive and of course my computer can write to CDs, so those are other backup options, especially for things like photos and videos.)
Whichever method you choose, be sure you do your backups on a regular basis. Starting right now.

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  1. >Don't copy to dropbox, just keep your working directory in a subfolder of your dropbox folder. I keep all my writing there. No need to do any manual backups, it's automatically copied between all my computers and the cloud. It also means that I can pull up any of my works from my phone or iPad if necessary.

  2. >Excellent tips. A few years ago my husband was furious, he composes music on the computer and lost a ton of stuff when the thing overheated and fried the system. We lost some pictures too but thank heavens we had most of them also on a CD, so not all were gone for good.
    For sure this is a good reminder, something to do on a day when your mind is feeling a block for motivation for other things anyhow, mark your calendar to remind yourself in a few months to do it again (or however often) but yup, do not get caught with nothing backed up it is a terrible feeling.

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