Sunday, June 28, 2009

Don't Cry on My Shoulder

by Raelene Gorlinsky

It happens fairly regularly. I get an email or phone call from a distressed author. "My computer crashed!" Yes, this is an awful situation for those of us completely dependent on our computers to do our jobs - like writing and all its attendant tasks (research, communications, online promo...). So there is the immediate crisis that getting your computer repaired or replaced is hassle, expense, and delay to your work schedule. But it can usually be handled in a few days and with several handfuls of OTC headache pills.

But then, too often, comes the real core of the problem. "And I don't have a backup!" Either the author doesn't back up her files at all, or she does so only, oh, once a week or month. Which means that if her hard drive data is not recoverable, she has lost either her complete WIP or all work done since that last backup, which could be many thousands of words. And she isn't going to be able to meet her deadlines.

This is where I cease to be sympathetic to the sobbing writer. WHY didn't you back up your files? How can you possibly have any excuse for risking something so important to you, and what for some is your job, your source of income? You KNOW computers regularly crash. You're not a teenager, you're not allowed to have that "I'm indestructible, it'll never happen to me" attitude.

My whole laptop hard drive is automatically backed up to an external drive three times a week. And I email several critical files to myself at the end of every work day--the ones I absolutely could not live without for even a day. You can copy your files to a CD or a thumb drive or any other removable device. Or do the basic - set up a Gmail account and email your files to yourself there and let them sit in the archives. (Well, periodically purge the old ones.) There's no cost, it takes only a minute.

"My computer crashed and I don't have a backup" has become the modern version of "My dog ate my homework" and is just as unacceptable.

How frequently do you back up your files, and what method do you use?


Jean Wogaman said...

I back up on a flash drive at the end of each writing session and also periodically back everything up on CD.

Carla Swafford said...

Critique buddy and I have a YAHOO group account that we back up our files, plus send emails to the loop with info to remember. E.g., tips on signing stock, ideas for self-promotion, etc.

Laurie M. Rauch said...

I have Mozy installed on every computer I use. Mozy is an online backup system that quietly backs up the folders I specify (as in every folder I save work to) every day to an online server. I also have a portable hard drive (500 GB) that I've been saving files to so that I can take them with me across computers.

I have too many people depending on me and too many projects on the go to risk only having one copy of my files.

Angel said...

I usually just lurk here (obviously), but I had to respond to this. A friend of mine lost over 60,000 words of a manuscript when her computer crashed last week, and she's still inconsolable. I don't know what to say to her other have an email account. Why didn't you send the files to yourself?

Any file I change - whether it's a full-length manuscript or a list of links - I send to both my Yahoo and Gmail accounts. I do it at the end of each day. I use two accounts just in case something happens to one of them. (I might be paranoid about that, but paranoid is better than sorry!) I back up on CD once every couple of weeks, just to be absolutely safe.

The cool thing about backing up to your email account is that you can access those files anywhere, anytime, from any computer. You don't have to take along a flash drive when you travel. It's all there when you log in, ready when you are.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Since my webserver is in the house (as is its backup), we have it set to do nightly backups and a monthly something-or-other that's more comprehensive.

Pretty slick. But that's why the Tour Manager gets the big bucks.

Unknown said...

I have an external hard drive that I back things up to once a month (and a Yahoo! calendar reminder to do it.) I have a flash drive for doing weekly backups. And a gmail account that I email everything to on a daily basis. I've never lost any fiction as a result. I can't understand why you wouldn't do everything that you possibly can in order to prevent loss of your fictions. Because I write everything out long hand first, I even use Noodler's bulletproof ink, that will survive unharmed after a cup of tea is dumped on it (which I accidentally did.)

Jeanne Ryan said...

After every day, everything (including research and bookmarks) gets backed up to an external hard drive.

Once a week or so, I copy things to a thumb drive I keep with me (heaven forbid there be a fire when I'm not home and all my work goes up in smoke). My friend has a really pretty one that is hidden in a black rose pendant. Hubby knows what I want (an apple pendant, since I have a mac). There are all sorts of things like this. (that isn't including the memory keys from Svaroski)

I also print out a copy of each chapter and put it in the Big Blue Binder. That way I can see the pages accumulate and should fate decide to be cruel and all electronic copies goes to the never never (those crafty villains and their electron pulses), all I would have to do is type it again.

Then there is the online crit group I belong to for FF&P RWA.

Me paranoid?

Ann Bruce said...

Critical files (e.g. finance, personal and business) are backed up to a USB key every time I make changes. Ditto with the current WIP.

Everything else is backed up to an external HD on a weekly basis.

Anonymous said...

I, too, use Mozy. It's free and it backs up automatically every morning. I also back up at the end of each work day, the goal being to not lose even a day's work. My husband is a techie and we also have a file server in the basement I back up to once a week.

I really recommend emailing your WIP to yourself or doing an offsite backup like Mozy, though (I have no interest in the company, LOL) because backing up to a CD or whatever that's in your house is of no help in a fire. While the odds are far less likely than a hard drive crash, you never know.

MsSnarkyPants said...

Which method don't I use? First of all I store them on a personal sharepoint site I have that is hosted by the university I work for. Those files are backed up daily and stored in what amounts to bunkers. I also store them on an external hard drive and on the three different computers I use. And I periodically burn them to dvd-rom and put one copy in our fire safe box and one copy at my friend's house. (Do the same with all our digital pics.)

I might be a teeeeny bit obsessive... ;)But I've helped one too many grad students who lost their entire dissertation because they were storing it on ONE floppy!

Jory Strong said...

I back up WIP constantly to flash drives and even go so far as to carry one of them with me if I leave the ranch--just in case the house burns down or someone breaks in and steals the computer/other flash drives while I'm gone. I also email myself at Yahoo and save a file there.

Yeah. I'm paranoid. But I don't enjoy rewriting scenes. Once is enough.

Anonymous said...

I back up my WIP on my Flash after every session. I back up all critical files on two different email accounts, my second computer, AND my iPod. As soon as my finances allow, I'm going to get an external hard drive too.

All this backing up came in handy when the hard drive of my two-year-old laptop crashed last month.

Erin Cabatingan said...

Macs have this really cool thing called time machine--if you have a big enough hard drive, it basically backs up your computer continuously. So if your computer ever crashes, you'll have your most recent files saved.

Another cool thing is that every once in a while I have accidentally deleted a document or part of a document and then saved it--with time machine you can retrieve the old document, before you saved what you didn't want, no problem.

I'm a Mac girl.

Kimber Li said...

It's definitely a good idea to learn this lesson before signing a publishing contract!

I recently lost about 30,000 of a second draft and that really drove it home for me. Thankfully, it was only a second draft and the only deadlines I need to worry about at this point are the ones I set for myself.

Aimlesswriter said...

i have a memory stick for my WIP and back that up every time I work on it. (I fear Murphy's law) Everything else is backed up weekly.
This post is a good reminder.

Charlee Compo said...

My DH often accused me of being too security conscious. I have an external drive to which I backup the important stuff. I also email the latest WIP to both my gmail and hotmail accounts at the end of the day. I burn a disk when I've submitted a book...just in case the editor's computer crashes. I also keep a copy on my laptop and on two different thumb drives. I lost a book once and suffered the heartbreak that went along with it. I swore I'd never lose another due to my laziness or lack of forethought. To my way of thinking, any author who does isn't a professional. She's just dabbling at the job and it doesn't mean that much to her. You wouldn't treat your child so lacksidaisical. Why treat your work that way?

Christine McKay said...

For those of you backing up to flash drives, you may want to consider getting software to protect the drive (I believe you can download it free). Think what would happen if you misplaced or lost your drive (or it corrupted or got spilled on)?

Mozy or some other online storage area (Microsoft offers a spot for free too) is really the best solution.

I wrote an article on backups for RWA's magazine back in May. Check it out. :)

Jeff D said...

I think Christine makes a good point- online backup is a very viable solution these days for storing and backing up important files. Microsoft's offering is Office Live Workspace- it comes with 5GB of online storage space for free. It has collaboration capabilities as well.

Madison Blake said...

I learned my lesson. I back up files I have updated at the end of each day to an external HD. Then, I also email whatever WIP I was working on that day to myself.

Jean Hart Stewart said...

Lost everything once and never again.I don't trust myself to remember to back up every night, but I do subscribe to a system called Carbonite which does it for me. About $50 for the year, but I have two computers and work on both. Peace of mind is worth it. One computer went blank again last month and Carbonite had it all right there for me to download. If you can manage the $50 it's a great source of comfort.

Charlene Teglia said...

I back up my files each and every time I make changes. I use a free service (, so not only are my files backed up, they are synched between computers. If one dies, I can switch and keep on working, no changes lost.