Backing Up


We spend a lot of time talking about craft, here on Magical Words.  We also think a lot about process.  I’m taking a step back today, to talk about the basics.  In particular, I’m talking about backing up your work.

Earlier this week, I experienced a catastrophic computer failure.  We’re talking no booting in any mode known to man, no access to the hard drive through any utility, permanent, utter, complete doom for my primary computer.  You know, the machine I use to write my novels.  My freelance work.  Every single piece of correspondence with friends and family.  My photos.  My music.  Everything.

I spent an hour or so discovering the terrifying extent of the problem.  I waited an hour or so for my in-house tech support (a.k.a., “my husband”) to return home from his long day of work. 

And within 15 minutes, I was up and running on my laptop, with every single document, email, photo, song ready to use.  My current plan is to use the laptop as my primary computer, with an external monitor and keyboard when I’m working from home.

Okay, the transition wasn’t perfect.  I needed to change the default on my trackpad, to accept “tap” as “click”.  And I needed to train the Mail program to recognize a couple hundred already-received emails as Junk, not as real mail.  I needed to download two free apps that I had on my desktop but had never added to my laptop.

But otherwise, every single thing went smoothly.  I’m still on track to make my two killer-deadline April 1 projects.

And all of that was possible because of Time Machine (Apple’s automatic back-up software).  You see, about three months ago, my husband noticed that Time Machine was *not* making clean, accurate copies of our computers; it had stopped doing so several *months* before.  We panicked, and swore, and studied, and we realized that we needed larger storage disks for backing up.  We bought two hard drives (not Apple-brand) and connected them up.  We checked to make sure that Time Machine was running, and we ran spot checks over the next couple of week’s to make sure that it continued running.

Time Machine had a complete “snapshot” of my computer, current to 15 minutes before the crash.

You can bet that I’m using Time Machine now, on the new computer.  And I’ll continue to do spot checks, to make sure that the backups are happening as expected.  (I also email crucial files to my Gmail account — once a month updates of my novels (more frequently, if I’m pouring out words), and monthly or quarterly updates of our crucial financial records (the spreadsheets I mentioned in earlier posts, our healthcare expense tracking, etc.  I don’t store things in the Cloud with products like Dropbox, because I don’t like the computer’s behavior as it reaches out for those files, especially when I’m working offline…)

So?  How about you?  Would you be able to send your writing to an interested agent or editor in an hour or two, if you got The Call?  (Okay, if your writing isn’t finished, could you send anything to anyone?  ::wry grin::)  What steps do you take to backup your computers?


18 comments to Backing Up

  • Time Machine was a total lifesaver a few months ago when my laptop was stolen, and I write live to dropbox, so I’m writing in the cloud and can access it from anywhere. But after a debacle Misty had a few months ago with them, I back that up monthly.

  • I backup every day after I’m done writing (and I have autosave on my computer running every 2 minutes). When I backup, I copy the relevant file to 2 thumb drives and two external hard drives, as well as my laptop (though I’m less diligent about that last than I probably ought to be). Point is, I have 5 copies of my book current at any one time — 6 if you count the laptop. Redundancy, redundancy, redundancy. Because I have lost material in the past and it sucks. And because, as the quote goes, “There are two types of writers: the ones who have lost work that they haven’t backed up, and the ones who WILL lose work that they haven’t backed up . . .”

  • sagablessed

    I agree. My first work was almost lost when the hard drive failed and had to be replaced-four times. New laptop, no less.
    Now I have a thumb drive, on-line back-up, and emails. Not loosing my work again.

  • quillet

    I lost a chapter once, many eons ago when discs were literally floppy. I rewrote the chapter but never felt like I recaptured the magic. Older-me thinks it probably sucked anyway 😉 but younger-me was devastated. So now I back up at ~least~ three separate ways. Speaking of which… *makes more backups*

  • The advantage of Time Machine is that it does backups automatically; however, it does not create a bootable copy of your hard drive. For that I use the inexpensive application SuperDuper . It is simple to use, albeit not automatic. I save to an external hard drive, which I then unplug from the computer until the next backup to prevent some catastrophic failure of my computer from also damaging the external drive.

    Ideally, I should save a copy of my work offsite as well, in case of fire or some such catastrophe, but I haven’t gotten that paranoid thorough about my archive process. Yet.

  • John – Naive me, I hadn’t thought about *theft*. Sigh… But my strategy for one should work for the other!

    David – I’d always thought about my backup and recovery in terms of just backing up my writing, file by file. The thing that astonished (and sickened) me in the first few seconds when I thought I’d lost everything was realizing how much *wasn’t* covered by my writing-file backups. (Perhaps most frighteningly, my password cheatsheet, written in code…) Of course, it was all there in the Time Machine backup (whew!) So, now I’ve lived the quotation…

    Sagablessed – Yikes! I can see getting one bad drive with immediate failure, but multiples like that?!? Sheesh!

    Quillet — I know authors who intentionally rewrite from scratch on a regular basis, and I totally, completely don’t get it 🙂

    Wolf – Interesting – I hadn’t even recognized the “bootable” issue (likely, because I live in a, er, computer-rich environment — there are always prior generations floating around here…) I, too, have not conquered the off-site paranoia (aside from sending my writing files off-base…)

  • God bless Time Machine. If you don’t have enough storage space, Time Machine has a setting that will write over the oldest of your back ups.

    I’m a great believer in having back up copies outside the home. I keep a flash drive of my books in my safety deposit box at the bank. I’ve also kept paper copies at family members’ houses because paper manuscripts can always be translated with OCR and a scanner.

    I don’t trust “the cloud” because of copyright issues as well as the possibility that a site may shut down or crash with no notice.

    I have an article on what writers need to do to prepare for bad weather and other disasters which may prove of use.

    The new gray hairs you prevent may be your own.

  • Ken

    I’ve got an old hard drive sitting on a shelf in my office. The controller failed on it (for non-computer folks, that’s what lets the hard drive talk to the computer). Aside from that, the data is still there…just unreachable without spending tons of $$$ to get it back. On that drive is a finished screenplay that I had to rewrite because I didn’t have much of a backup strategy. Now I’ve got two data drives (one is a copy) I back my WIP up to Dropbox and I’ve got 2 flash drives that I back stuff up to.

    In the event of a catastrophic failure, I could be back up and running normally in 24 hours. If I needed to send a copy of my WIP out, I could do it in seconds.

    Remember: There are really only two kinds of people. Those that have lost important data and those that haven’t…yet.

  • I use dropbox to back up my writing. I just went into Time Machine to see what it was doing and it’s off. Hmmm. Looks like I need some computer training.

  • I have a flash drive, an external hard drive, and the laptop I periodically backup work onto. I’m paranoid about using dropbox or somesuch because I’m afraid of someone somehow getting on there and swiping the work. I really should try to find another place to backup to though.

  • I’m somewhat old school – I save to a flash drive then email the docs to myself every time I get ready to stop for the night. It suits me to do it this way, especially since my Dropbox incident last summer.

    Speaking of that, if you’re using Dropbox’ free service and you have a problem (for example, your documents inexplicably disappearing from the Dropbox folder) DB will not raise a finger to assist you unless you agree to pay for an upgraded account. According to them, they just don’t have the time to help their free clients. I can show you the email they sent me if you think I’m making it up. 😀

  • MByerly – I know that Time Machine is *supposed* to write over the oldest back ups. In my case (several months back), TM had backed itself into a corner, where it didn’t have enough room left on the disk to do the minimal swapping out that it needed to do, so it wasn’t able to write over. We solved the problem by buying relatively inexpensive giant hard drives that may *never* fill up… I’ll check out your linked post!

    Ken – It’s so frustrating — the way that we can *have* the backups, but not be able to access them. Of course, I say this as a woman with 12″ floppies from my programming days, that I can’t begin to read. (And yeah, that’s not a typo…)

    Sarah – Good luck figuring out why TM has hiccuped for you!

    Daniel – I think it’s highly unlikely that anyone would get into my Dropbox drive and steal my copyrighted material to sell as their own. I’m more concerned with Dropbox’s contract terms shifting, and their claiming some sort of right to my copyrighted material. (I come at this from the perspective of a law firm associate whose firm decided at one point that they owned *everything* on their computers, including floppies, no matter when created — I understand the position, and it was legally defensible, but I despised the rule applied backwards!)

    Misty – Sorry to hear that you ran into the free/paid barrier. So many services are doing that — they provide free access with ZERO support, without considering those free-folks to be (at the very least) advertising for them!

  • Mindy, late to the party. Sorry! The hubby took me (and a bunch of other people) paddling on Thursday/Friday, down a freezing icy cold mountain river. To normal people that would sound horrible. I had a ball. 🙂

    Backups: Internal hard drive, external hard drive that I detach and take or hide when traveling, thumb drive, and I send my current work to myself every night. Paranoia is healthy.

  • Um, Faith? I’m glad that there’s *someone* who enjoys paddling down a freezing, icy cold mountain river, because then I won’t feel like the river is neglected 🙂 I’m now looking at the dimensions of my hard drive and wondering if it would fit in my safe deposit box the next time I take a long-ish trip…

  • Megan B.

    Emailing is a great supplement to backing up on a hard drive. Because what if there is a disaster like flood or fire that wrecks everything in the house? All the external hard drives in the world won’t save you if they too are ruined.

    Google Drive is an awesome way to back things up too. You just upload them to your personal Google cloud. I wouldn’t use a cloud for anything I didn’t want hackers to get at, though. Not that I expect to get hacked, but clouds aren’t super secure.

  • Megan – My husband is just starting to use Google Drive as a back-up system, especially for documents we need while traveling. Ah, more clouds to seed 🙂

  • Late to the party but I figured I’d share what I do: first, I have everything in dropbox which is VERY handy when I need to grab documents and don’t have that particular computer (I also alternate between two computers so having all the files synced and easily accessible is great). Second, I use TimeMachine which automatically backs up (just in case there’s an issue with DropBox). Third, I do have the fear of the house burning down or someone stealing our electronics so I also use Carbonite to back up my main computer. I may go ahead and pay to have Carbonite also backup the Time Capsule. And finally, I email important docs to myself. I used to do this really regularly and have gotten a bit out of the habit (it’s one reason I’ve already had to pay to expand my gmail storage space!).

    I’m a big fan of redundant systems and of having at *least* one, if not two, off-site storage methods.

    I also understand DropBox hesitation — I hesitated for ages over it because I was afraid of screwing up and overwriting something. But since I’ve started using it I’ve become a huge convert. I LOVE DropBox!!

  • Carrie – we love everyone who comes to the party — late or not! Well, I’ll take another look at DropBox, see if I can make it fit my writing style. After all, when it comes so highly recommended… 🙂