Backups for Writers

Thanks to my years in IT, not to mention my personal experience with the crushing sense of loss that comes from losing even a few hundred words, nothing makes me cringe like a writer saying they lost a whole chapter. Or worse, a whole book.

Technology has made it easier for us to back up than ever, but it can also give us a false sense of being protected.

Note: In this blog post, I’m going to limit myself to discussing backups for your writing. Backing up a whole hard drive (though important) requires more effort, but can also be undertaken less often. Backing up your writing should be a near-daily activity.

Summary: You need multiple copies, in multiple different places, from multiple points in time.

First let’s talk about why your backup needs to be stored in a separate location from the original.

Devices get lost or damaged, houses burn down and flood, service providers go out of business or decide that your work doesn’t meet their TOS and lock you out. Passwords get forgotten.

Yes, Google has a million servers, but if you can’t log in to one of them, then you can’t log in to any of them. “The cloud” is not a good excuse to skip backing up. The cloud only counts as ONE of your copies. Ideally, you should have one copy local (under your control) and one in the cloud (not subject to physical damage).

Now let’s talk about the importance of storing more than one version.

Whereas the multiple location rule protects your document from accidents that might happen to you, the multiple versions rule protects your document from you.

Suppose you accidentally delete a chapter out of the middle of your document thanks to an over-aggressive text selection. Or you listen to the wrong advice on the internet and edit your masterpiece into a state of worse-ness. Once you’ve backed up that damaged copy, your backup is just as damaged. You want a copy of your current “gold standard” file, but you also want a copy of a few previous iterations—just in case.

A word about synchronization. You may think that if you store your most current copy locally and use a synchronization app to copy it into the cloud, that you’re getting automatic backups, but synchronization has the downfall of immediately propagating mistakes. Some synchronization apps are even set up to delete a document off the cloud when you delete it off your hard drive. One oopsie can take out not just your document, but your backup as well.

Backup Strategy Pros and Cons

“I just use Google Docs. Google takes care of backups.”
👎 only one location
👍 Google does offer access to previous versions

“I write on my laptop which automatically synchronizes to the cloud.”
👍 multiple locations, one of which is under your control
👎 only one version
👍 good frequency

“Every once in a while I copy my document to a thumb drive”
👎 only one version
👎 poor frequency
👎 still only one location if thumb drive is in the same house as the original doc

“I make a new copy of the document every time I edit it.”
👍 multiple versions
👎 only one location

“I make a new copy of the document every time I edit it and that copy gets synchronized to the cloud.”
👍 multiple versions
👍 multiple locations, one of which is under your control
👍 good frequency
👎 clutter

“I email the doc to myself at the end of each working session” – This is the strategy I use. It gets a gold star for
🌟 ease of use
🌟 frequency
🌟 no clutter
🌟 multiple locations*
🌟 automatically time stamped, always static

Emailing documents to yourself isn’t an effective strategy for backing up your whole hard drive, but it’s a good one for something as frequently changed and as important as a manuscript. Make emailing yourself a copy of your manuscript the last thing you do at the end of each working session.

*note: if your primary copy is on the cloud and your email is provided by the same company, get a second email address from a different company and mail the docs to that address. I have an email account I set up just for the purpose of receiving these documents. If I need to retrieve a backup it’s as simple as logging into that account and scrolling down to the date I need to go back to.

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