Saturday, August 7, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Got Backups?

You are a writer. Words pester you constantly, yet you have to deal with reality as well as the words you write. And what I want to stress this week is the ultimate reality that some beginning writers have faced (and ended up quitting) because they were not prepared for a writer's worst nightmare - losing your work.

Here's a story for you. In my first semester of college, I was so paranoid that someone might find my writings and exploit them, so I invested in a combination briefcase and took everything with me - from A: Drive floppies to physical manuscripts (which was only one at the time). When I flew home for Christmas Break, I found myself waiting for my luggage without my briefcase (that I had on the plane with me). I freaked. Imagine, losing your work in a busy airport, having to go through security several times, attempting to track down your writings - all of them! Luckily, someone found my case by a phone booth and turned it into a desk clerk. I learned two invaluable lessons that day. 1: Never keep all of your writings in one place, and 2: Never keep all of your writings in one place and take it with you into highly populated transportation areas.

Now, I was one lucky maraca, but some unfortunate dude somewhere, at some point, may have lost it all. Now that I've written well over a million words in the projects I've started and finished, losing everything would be indescribably devastating. I wouldn't just quit - I'd want to die. Okay. Okay. No emo - but seriously. I would be a wreck for quite some time, left to wonder if it's worth reproducing everything that I've lost. How, then, do you combat the risk of losing your work? With our reliance on computers today, the risk is all the more dangerous. Here are 5 simple ways to keep your work from vanishing off the face of the Earth.

1: Save often - while you're writing on a computer, save your work often, with every new page you draft. And if you happen to delete a large chunk of something, don't panic. Press Ctrl - Z (undo). It should come back.

2: Work off a portable drive - I never write directly on my home computer's hard drive, or on my notebook's. If your computer crashes, your work will disappear without any hope of recovery, but if you're writing on a document that's saved on a USB flash drive, the crash should have no effect on it. You may lose a page or a chapter, but not everything. Invest in a sturdy USB flash drive. Store it three feet or more above your floor.

3: Save your work on more than one computer/storage device - if you happen to lose your work in one place, how relieved will you feel if you saved your work on another computer or storage device? You'll do the happy dance - guaranteed. For me, I save and work off a USB drive at all times and backup my files on my home and notebook computers. Password protected. That's three - count them - three reliably and safe devices.

4: Annual backups - pick a date. Ever year, collect your writings - all of them - everything that you've finished and are currently working on, and burn them onto a CD. Keep it somewhere safe - fire-proof safe!

5: Hard copies - what if the worst case scenario happens? A flood destroyers your computer(s)? A fire? An ionic storm renders all electronics useless? Solar flare radiation nukes your CDs and storage devices? Okay. These might be unlikely, but possibilities are still possibilities. When you finish a chapter, print it. Always have at least one hard copy on hand. When you finish a novel, print a few hard copies of your full manuscript to share with family or friends. Even if your electronically saved documents vanish, you'll still have a hard copy.

Lastly, keep your work organized. You can also lose your work by saving it in a random folder and end up accidentally deleting it. Create a file for all of your work, a new folder for each project in that folder. It's my hope that this has been useful information and advice. Losing your work is preventable, if you are prepared.

I'm David, and my car is getting serviced.


  1. Great tips David. I have only had very minor losses myself-but there is that worry in the back of my mind.

    Author Steven Pressfield says he goes so far as to save each days work and go put it in the glove compartment of his truck-just in case the house burns down.

  2. Now that's hardcore backups right there! Thanks for reading and commenting, David. Since I have family who likes my stuff, I send them chapters as I write them, too. So if a meteor strikes my house, I'll have three different locations to reclaim my backups. Again, worst case scenario.