Years ago I heard a story of an author who had just completed her novel and, just days before her manuscript was due at her publisher, suffered a catastrophic computer crash and lost the entire book. She had not yet printed a hard copy; there were no floppy backups.
Back then, when computers were just becoming popular as tools for writers, crashed hard drives and lost work had not yet become a widely known possibility. Computers were supposed to be safer than paper – Drinks couldn’t be spilled on them, dogs didn’t pee on them or eat them, the data stored on hard drives would last for eons. Over time, virtually everyone has either suffered or knows someone close who has suffered data loss of one degree or another. I know of more than a few folks whose entire collections of music, photographs, audio books or creative writing efforts have been lost in the blue screen of computer death.
Today, even with such disasters a recognized fact of computer life, it’s astounding that the majority of people I speak to fail to retain copies of their work outside of their computers. When I ask whether people have backups of photos, writing or other files the answer I get most often is: “Oh, yeah, I really should do that soon.”
Sadly, soon is often too late for many people.
Writers come in many flavors: Professionals, aspiring amateurs and casual scribblers. But no matter where you fit in the writing ranks your work is an important part of you that deserves protection. Once lost, it can never be recovered. Why pour so much passion into pulling words together then not see to their safety?
Creating backups is such an incredibly simple process, yet I’d wager the majority of writers either don’t back up their work or do it so infrequently that they have no idea how far back their last backup was performed. How and what you write plays a big part in how frequently you should save your work in some alternate form.
If you are a novelist, it’s insanity not to save a backup copy to an alternate (preferably an external) hard drive not only every day, but if you write for hours on end do it several times during each session. A crash in the midst of those two fresh chapters could mean you’ll have to rewrite every word, and you may not feel the same passion that gave you those ideas when you try to rewrite them. It’s also a great idea to save to a thumb drive at the end of each session. I like to save my backups as completely new, dated files. This helps to identify at a glance which file is newest and when it was created.
Even if you’re not a pro, your work is important. If lost, you’ll kick yourself; I promise. So while multiple backups every day might not be necessary for you, depending on the quantity of work you produce I recommend backing up your new work at least once every day, and that you keep at least two backups of your previous work in digital form as well as a hard copy of every piece of work. Personally, all of my work exists on two different external hard drives (in addition to one on my PCs drive), another copy on a thumb drive, and another copy of every poem, story and article I have written is saved in printed and stored in a binder. I print and immediately save copies to my external storage devices whenever a new piece is completed. Keeping a three-hole punch or stack of page protectors (my personal favorite) handy makes sure your pages don’t pile up and get lost. I also find that keeping a hard copy makes it far more likely that I’ll revisit my work and read it from time to time; it also allows visitors to see what you’ve been up to lately. I also copy my “Writing” folder to a CD/DVD twice each year, keeping one in my desk and the other at my daughter’s house.
It only takes a few seconds to create a digital backup, and a little paper to keep a hard copy. Aren’t those untold hours of work and imagination worth those few seconds? And while you’re at it, why not back up those photos, tunes and other files at least once each month. If your computer crashes it’s a minor hassle to restore your operating system, but a simple drag-and-drop to restore your data. It’s an absolute nightmare trying to recreate lost data, a likely impossible nightmare.