Wednesday, April 16, 2014

And Now, a Bit of Practical Advice...

Everyone who has one of these "blog" thingies (that's a technical term) likes to dole out advice on deepening the character and how to avoid mistakes in the craft.  I'm as guilty of the next guy of wafting my own brand of sage-like wisdom your direction.  But this week, I feel the need to talk about something much more important than any of that.  Well, maybe not more important, but at least as important.  We'll start with a story. 

Once upon a time, there was a writer.  This guy (we'll call him Scott) lived in an area where a large storm hit.  The wind howled, thunder boomed, and his cable modem crapped out.  Big deal, you say?  Well it was to him.  See, Scott was a hundred pages into his new novel, which was coming along nicely, but he saved his work to a network cloud drive.  So when his cable modem crapped out, he could no longer access his work.  After a quick and desperate search, Scott realized, to his horror, that he'd neglected to back up his work in another file.  
Pictured:  Scott without internet access.

The story has a good ending… Scott's cable company replaced the modem the next day, and he was back in business, but there is a moral to this story:


Look, I make my trade in telling stories that terrify.  But the one thing that scares me more than (almost) anything is the thought of losing my work.  That's months I'll never get back again.  Weeks of oreos and alcohol that will need to be replicated.  That is also what we writers know by two names:  First is "The Big Suck."  The second is "Your Own Damned Fault."  

Back in the days before computers and printers (I'm not that old, but I do know people who are old enough to remember these days…), a type written thesis or book was treated like gold.  Hard copy was something treasured, and to protect it,  the "backup" method was to wrap it in plastic wrap (or butcher paper) and place a copy in the freezer.  This way, if the house burned down, there was still a chance it would be safe.  I wish I were making that part up, but it's true.  

So here's my suggestion to you.  Three copies (or more) of everything.  Here's my current storage solution:

  1. Working file on the cloud drive - I use "Dropbox" because it's free, and because it allows me to access the same file over multiple devices.  iPad, laptop, desktop, work desktop (shhhhhh!), it doesn't matter.  I can get to my file wherever I need to.  
  2. Working File on the desktop - My home desktop has a file on it that is title "WIP" for Works In Progress.  That's the file I typically open when I'm working on a project (hence the whole "working file" thing).  When I'm done working for the night, I put a copy of it into the cloud drive. 
  3. Backup File on USB - Yeah, I'm one of those writers who often carries his entire catalogue of work around with him on a USB drive.  They're cheap, they are almost incorruptible (my brother dropped one in a baby bottle full of formula and didn't lose any information), and they're small.  When I'm done writing for, say, a week or if I'm traveling, I'll use this file.  Let's say, for example, I'm in some jackass hotel that doesn't have wi-fi or wants to charge extra for it.  No worries.  I have my jump drive. I'll save a copy of what's on my USB drive onto whatever computer I happen to be using, and I'm back in business.  The file on the USB is not changed until I'm damned sure I'm done with it for the evening. 
    It's a transformer!
    Thumb drive.  Whamp whamp whaaaaaaamp!
  4. E-Mail - Yeah, it's a little paranoid and old-school, but I've also been known to save finished copies of complete manuscripts by e-mailing a copy to myself.  I set up a smart folder of where everything funnels in my system.
  5. The Dark Archive - No, it's not a basement dungeon filled with little goblins who obsessively file my paperwork (I wish!).  It's actually a two-part system.  One is a second USB drive that only contains finished copies of my work.  The second is a burned CD with only the finished copy of my work.  
    Pictured:  The Dark Archive
So that's it.  That's my backup scheme.  It's a little obsessive, I know, but it's saved my bacon several times.  Here's the other thing:  You must remain dedicated to it.  A backup plan only works if you stick to it.  make it part of your daily writing routine.  
Pictured:  Smug invulnerability.

Share your backup plan in the comments!


  1. I use USB drives, DropBox and an external hard disk drive for my back up. I'cve also been known to use synching sites like Syncplicity, but they can cause issues, too, creating multiple versions of a single file, so I don't always use them. Writing in an online site like My Writing Spot (supported by Google) also helps, because the files stay there and you can e mail them to yourself. So I can write during class (shhh) and then copy and paste the results into my wip later-- or go back and download that section if I forget to save it. Not perfect-- but it works for me (so far).

  2. I use a redundant system, too: USB, Dropbox, and my little Apple AirPort tower. You only need to experience the Blue Screen of Death aka Operating System Not Found one time to get serious about backup.

  3. I can't count how many copies I have backed up, emailed or saved 'somewhere.' It doesn't matter. Although it may get a bit confusing when you are looking for the copy and find six of them with different save dates. Ugh! "Which one is the final?" I ask myself. But I do get extra reading time in on the copies so I remember what it is I'm submitting for the cover letter or pitch!