This post originally appeared on A Writer’s Struggle, the precursor website to this one.
Do you backup your manuscript, poetry, essays, or whatever other digital art you create? I don’t mean hitting ctrl-c, ctrl-v and getting on with your day, I mean really backing it up. Many people think having a copy or two on the same computer is enough, but it’s not. Some think making a backup on a USB drive, external hard drive, or CD/DVD will let them feel secure, but they shouldn’t. If you fall into either of these categories (or worse have no backups at all) then you’d better listen up because you may be in for a world of hurt when lose your precious pieces of art.
Okay, the first paragraph was a bit heavy handed, but I hope you get my point. Making just a single copy or two of your work just isn’t enough.
Files get corrupted, USB drives lost, hard drives crash, and CD/DVD’s break. Even if you’re diligent enough to create backups every day or week, the chances of a great loss is pretty high if your main file goes down. Imagine working hard for hours on a manuscript, hundreds of pages done with amazing plots, dynamic characters, and beautiful scenery all to just disappear. You may lose it due to a power surge through your house, an accidental delete from a little one, or any other number of things. I can tell you from experience, the devastation you would feel is almost enough to give up on the craft all together.
But then you remember you made a backup on a USB stick only a few short chapters prior! You rush to the place you hid it, plug it in and it doesn’t work. The computer can tell ‘something’ is there, but it’s unrecognizable and “needs to be formatted to work properly”.
You quickly unplug the USB stick and plug it back in, try other ports, even try other computers. “It’s not possible” you say in denial, “It has to work! This was my backup, I was responsible and made a backup!”
After a few more attempts with no luck, you get angry and throw the USB stick against the wall, screaming profanity, “You’re nothing but a SON OF A FLOPPY DISK!” The stick cracks, pieces flying all over as you continue to ruthlessly pound it against whatever surface you can find.
Then you break down, gathering the broken pieces in your hands while you cry, “Please, I will do anything! I’ll write every day, edit every night, and even help my friends when they ask me to look at their writing! Just give me my story back.”
However, there is no answer. Y0u look down at what you can now only classify as a massacre of technology and fall into a deep depression. You sit there, not saying a word or making a sound. Only the beating heart would tell the world you’re alive. Thoughts of what you have done and what it all means hits you and you just don’t know if you can live in a world without your manuscript any longer.
Finally, after minutes have gone by since you first saw the faithful error pop up, a calm peace rushes over you and you accept that the manuscript is gone forever, never to return to the physical world, never to be seen by agents, publishers, or readers.
Is this story all too familiar to you? If this was the end of the tale, the devastation is immense and the lesson clear, even backups can fail.
But this isn’t the end of the tale, you see, it does have a happy ending.
You’ve accepted the fate of your manuscript lost to time when a voice in the back of your head whispers about “automatic backups to the cloud”. You suddenly remember your friend/spouse/parent/sibling doing ‘something’, although you didn’t pay attention.
Quickly, you jump to your feet, the remains of what was once a glorious USB stick fly in all directions, and you grab your phone, dialing the number of the possible saviour.
“Hey, it’s me!”
“Oh hey! I’m glad you called, I got big news that will change the way the world-”
“I don’t have time for that right now! A while back, you said something about auto-backups on my computer.”
“Yeah, what about it?”
He proceeds to walk you through the process of finding the file, your hands shaking and misclicking with every step. The thought of your manuscript still living on a server somewhere out there makes your heart beat two times it’s normal speed and then you see it.
You quickly double click the file and it opens in full screen to display all it’s glorious 632 pages, 214,143 words, and you weep uncontrollably, forgetting you were still on the phone.
“Hey are you okay?”
Your response is unintelligible, but they get the picture and hang up.
It’s all there, from the very first word to the climactic conclusion. From the first meeting of destined lovers to the fierce battle where the Hero almost loses his life.
Every last tidbit and tale. You are saved.
Backing up your backups is essential in this day and age. Some programs do it automatically, others need a bit of help, but no matter what, it’s always good to ensure you won’t go through the agony of loss.
So what is the best way to back up your work? Well, there is no one best way. To be secure in knowing you will always have a backup, you’ll need to take multiple steps.
The first is to set up automatic backup. The two best, and easiest, way to do this is via either Google Drive or Dropbox (or both!). Personally I use Google Drive because it links directly to my google account where I already have the majority of my files.
All you have to do is download the desktop version of whichever you choose and keep your manuscript in the folder specified. Not only does this allow you to work on your file from any of your own computers in real time (as soon as you hit the save button, it uploads the data to the cloud and downloads it to any other connected computer), you can also download that file directly from their website to any computer NOT linked, such as at school or work.
It’s also good to have a local backup. If you’re working in word, which I use for editing, this is as simple as creating a copy at the end of the day and keeping it in a different location. For example, on Google Drive my file structure for where I put my work in progress is in Documents > Scrivener > Sinesol: Revelations > Book 1. My backup, however, is located in Documents >Scrivener >Backups. That way even if the whole folder of Sinesol gets deleted, I still have it elsewhere.
If you’re using a program that automatically makes backups, just change the default folder to one within Google Drive or Dropbox. An example of this is Scrivener, which I use for the actual writing of the manuscript. It makes a set amount of backups in whatever folder you specify. I have it set to 10 backups, so that means I have the last 10 saved files backed up at all times locally, in a different folder, AND on the cloud/other computers.
You can take even further steps by backing up your files once a month (or even once a week) on a USB stick or external hard drive. This isn’t really necessary, but if you’re prone to computer problems or just plain bad luck, it might be something to consider.
It sounds like a lot of work, but honestly it’s not too bad. I’ll be writing a step-by-step guide on how to use Google Drive in an upcoming post, so check back for that real soon.
Do you have any horror stories or backup advice to share? Please let me know below!