Back It Up


A number of years back, I was scheduled to attend a pretty prestigious writer’s conference, so for two or three weeks prior to leaving, I was busy prepping.  Did I say busy?  I meant frantic, terrrified, unable-to-breathe, writing-like-my-head-might-explode.  See, I had a chance to meet a very important NY agent there, thanks to Faith – she’d arranged for the man to be a guest at the conference, and had convinced him to give all of the members of Faith’s writing group a little one-on-one time.  My pages had to be beyond perfect, my pitches had to be natural and intriguing, and I needed to find serenity to make this all come off.  On the Saturday night before the conference started, I had just finished about eighteen pages of a new chapter.  I hit “save”. 

And the page went blank.

I stared in shock at the white expanse of nothingness where my novel had been only moments ago.  I guess I thought staring really, really hard would make the pages reappear.  (Hey, there’s a reason I write fantasy, you know.)  When nothing happened, I turned the laptop toward my husband, making a pitiful whimpering sound in my throat that, loosely translated, meant  Help.  If you can’t make my pages come back, I’m going to crawl into my closet and hide until everyone has forgotten they ever knew me because my pages are gooooooooooone.  He tried, bless his heart, as did my friend Virginia, who had the best computer-fu ever, but while they were able to recover an earlier save, I still lost those eighteen pages.  To this day, I can’t help feeling those pages were some of the best writing I ever accomplished, gone forever.  I learned a hard lesson that day.  I went out and purchased a couple of flash drives, and saved my novel regularly on them.  Some time later, when I started using Gmail, I switched to sending myself copies of the most recent saves, tucking those emails away where I could always get to them, no matter what computer I was using.  At first, I was diligent, but as time went by, and disaster seemed to be avoiding me, I admit I let the saves slide. 

Last Friday I had the day off work, so I was looking forward to the whole day with my keyboard.  I turned on my computer, checked my email, glanced at a couple of websites and was just about to open my documents when my screen went crazy, claiming there were multiple catastrophes happening in my hard drive.  Before I could even think about something to do, all my icons vanished.  My monitor had become a large frame for my pretty wallpaper, and nothing else.  I decided to wait until my husband came home to try and do something about it, and moved to the laptop to get some work done.  Which is when I discovered that the most recent save in my Gmail was not terribly recent at all.  Being human, and fallible, I’d skipped my saving process for a while.  There was much wailing and rending of garments.  (Well, okay, I didn’t actually rend anything, but I sure wanted to.)

Computers are amazing tools, making the writer’s life far more pleasant than it was even a century ago.  I remember writing on a portable typewriter, and having to rest my hands now and then because hitting the keys hurt, damn it.  I won’t give up my computer without a fight, but still, I have to keep in mind it’s an object that can break down.  Trusting it to keep all my docs safe isn’t smart.  On Kalayna’s recommendation, I’ve opened an account with Dropbox, a file-hosting service that uses cloud storage.  It backs up my documents every day, every time I change them, and I can access it from any computer.  At the moment, I have 2.25 GB of space for free.  If you want to come over with me, you’re welcome to follow this link.  It will give us both extra space, still for free.  You can pay a monthly fee for more space, but really, writing files take up so little room I don’t think I’ll ever need to pay for more.  Dropbox isn’t the only cloud storage service out there, either – Amazon has one, and Google Cloud.  If you don’t want to use a service like Dropbox, there are external hard drives you can purchase for less than $100 that will automatically back up your files. 

The point is, please don’t depend on your own memory to save your work.  The road to lost work and heartbreak is paved with the intention to save.


19 comments to Back It Up

  • OUCH. I admit I’m not as diligent about saving as I should be, and it has caused catastrophes before. One of the reasons I switched over to Mac is because Scrivener (and I think Pages) saves automatically, every ten seconds. Also, I have an iCloud account, which lets me save everything there. I do the email thing as well.

    Now you’ve got me all paranoid.

    I’m going to go save all my stuff.

  • Paranoid is a good way to be when dealing with computers.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    For me, hitting Ctrl-s is like a nervous tick, to the point that I mess myself up sometimes because my excel program won’t let me undo if I’ve already saved. And it’s so lovely to have a Mac with TimeMachine. But, none of that will help me if a meteor hits my house or something, so, yeah, I should probably be a lot better about my email backups than I am. Thanks for the reminder.

  • And if the cost is too much, the first 2 GB of Dropbox is free. I’ve been using a free account with them for almost a year now, mostly for my writing files, and I couldn’t recommend the site more. Last week I received the “Back Up Your Novel Day” reminder from NaNoWriMo, and that made me realize that my copy was on my laptop and not in the DropBox folder. Another great thing about Dropbox? You can access it on multiple computers. Sometimes when I’m at home I prefer to switch to my PC, and it updates the file(s) automatically.

  • I have a similar tale of woe and disaster: of a physically smashed external hard drive that slipped from my own, traitorous, clumsy fingers, that same harddrive having been the only repository of my WIP. I paid a computer repair shop as much as it would’ve cost me to buy a new computer – and more – to recover the contents of that smashed drive. To this day, I consider it money well-spent, but even so there were parts of the WIP that were not recovered, including the most recent chapter I was working on. (I’ve always saved each chapter as a separate document file.) And yet, I too suffer from a chronic failure to remember to back up my work often.

    I shall have to rectify the problem this week.

  • Dropbox is teh awesome. I use it for all my work, not only because of the backup, but because I can access all my docs from anywhere. But I also back up my dropbox to a separate file every now and then, because I’m paranoid.

  • Vyton

    Isn’t *paranoia* when you imagine they’re out to get you. When they really are out there, it’s something else. Who said, “If you aren’t afraid, you aren’t paying attention?”

  • For those with iDevices (yes, my catch-all word for Apple products) the first 2 GBs of iCloud is free as well. All you need is an Apple ID, which just means “having iTunes”. You also get a nice, short little email address as well 🙂

    And, for those of you who are allergic to signing up for new things, I highly recommend Yarny. It’s only in beta right now but it’s basically a word-processor-on-a-cloud (That’s two birds with one stone for us writerly folk. Write where you go, right where you are!). The only catch is, you must have a stable net connection or things might not transfer properly. What Yarny saves goes straight to their cloud though.. which means it’s basically safe forEBAR.

    And, for those who are wondering what the hell a “cloud” is… Don’t be embarrassed, because I just learned myself. Since we have been throwing that term around, I’ll try to explain.

    Cloud is basically just a fluffy word for a really big virtual harddrive that is housed by whatever organization owns/hosts it (somewhere…out there…probably roundabouts Silicon Valley…) It is a physical thing, not just some water molecules floating up in the stratosphere like the name implies. But–like a cloud–it is far, far away from your computer device of choice, where your data is invulnerable to meltdowns, small children, and house fires. This Really-Big-Faraway harddrive, which is most likely housed in a maximum security facility that is much nicer/cleaner/cooler than the insides of your average PC, is also not just ONE harddrive but a “redundant array” of harddrives. This means that your data is not just stored once when you feed it to the cloud, but over and over again. Multiple times, across multiple servers, many, many, many times a day! The other brilliant thing about clouds is that you can access it no matter where your go or what you’re on. This is great for people (like me) who are constantly switching between 3-5 different word-processing capable machines. It means not having to constantly sync one device with another 🙂 So forget having to lug your external HDD around or tying your USB drive to your finger every time you run out the door. You can tap into the cloud on any device that supports said cloud (and has an internet connection). Pretty cool huh?

  • Oct 20, 2011. Day of infamy. Day I was watching my computer as layer after layer of small boxes appeared with a cascading failure of … everything. Like you, I hadn’t backed up. The next 2 weeks were hell as as I:
    1. Called my brother the computer whiz and cried on his shoulder.
    2. And took him my old dead PC to save my files.
    3. And bought a brand new PC.
    Now I have:
    1. DropBox,
    2. A zip drive,
    3. An external hard drive.
    Never again will I suffer than kind of panic.
    Did I back up today?
    Will I forget sometimes?
    Sure. Human, here.

  • Having read the stories here–and heard others often–I have created a dropbox account and put stuff in it. 🙂 Thank you for this, becaues I don’t back up stuff enough. I do keep them in email, and often I store stuff on servers at school–this includes my scholarly work, lesson plans, etc. But thanks for the reminder. Wise words, all.

  • Oh the horror stories I could tell. I’ve had to replace the hard drive on my work computer 9 times in 4 and a half years – the school IT people shudder when they see me coming. So thank you much for the Dropbox tip! I will hie me thither posthaste.

  • Lady Ash

    Used your referral link to make myself a DropBox. Now checking to see how it really works. I am one of those who favors leaving myself private posts in my LJ in order to keep up with things, on top of sending them to email. However, just went through the OMG EVERYTHING is GONE!!!!-wail,gnash,panic- with my mother whose computer had been going through the slow process of dying in stages only to finally crap out the day she decided to try and get all of her stuff off of it. Now, I look for other alternatives. Thank you.

  • *scrambles to find flash-drive*
    … everything backed up now!

  • *Read post. Backed up files.*

    Sorry to hear about the 18 pages. Ugh. We’ll never know just how awesome they were. Thankfully, there’s been many more since then. The ideas in this post and comments really have me thinking. I need to find a better way to remember, whether it be a sticky email or message, or an alarm on my ipod. Something, anything to get me to backup.

    And I’ll definitely check out dropbox through your link.


  • Dave, thanks for the compliment!

    Faith, that’s the same thing that happened with my computer! Zillions of little scary boxes on top of each other, which then all vanished, leaving nothing but my wallpaper. Fortunately for me, it was only a nasty hunk of malware, one my beloved was able to vanquish. But the scare was enough.

    I’m glad everyone backed up today in whatever way you prefer. I’d say we need a national holiday, called Back It Up Day, except it would really need to be every day!

  • I remember ten years ago, I had a laptop hard drive go. Manual error on my part. And…every single one of the pictures from my three months in Europe were gone, instantly. I couldn’t recover them. Made for a cranky Roxie.

    These days, I absolutely love my Mac Time Machine. I’ve lost a number of hard drives over the last few years (don’t ask), but now all I need to do is grab a new drive from Apple (or a new Mac from work), hook it up to the net, do a few clicks, and an hour or two later, my computer is set up just like it was when it crashed. It basically does a brain transplant on the darn machine. No manual copying of files from here to there, no loading up DVD’s, no digging around on some remote drive. It’s just there.

    And yep, you should generally have some storage far away, in the cloud. Just in case. And burning onto DVDs can be good. And printing out paper copies…

    Now only if I were more diligent about backing up to the cloud.

  • TwilightHero

    Yup, I’m paranoid enough to have been keeping multiple copies of important files for years: PC, laptop, USB, and email accounts. And I’m still going to check out this Dropbox thing as well. Better safe than sorry.

    Of course, you’d better be sure which copy you’re opening…a few months back, I was making some much-needed chapter revisions on my laptop – which I was running on main power only, the battery’s fried – when there was a power failure. (Thank God for AutoRecovery.) When it came back, I turned it back on, started up Word, opened my AutoRecovered story and kept going. I always run my story from my USB so it saves there in case of times like this, then copy/paste onto my PC or laptop. So when I was done this is exactly what I did.

    But the next day, when I opened the ‘main’ copy on my USB, NONE OF MY CHANGES WERE THERE. AS far as I can tell, for some reason, by opening the AutoRecover version on Word, they must have been saved to the file on my laptop….not to my USB. I then overwrote them by copying from the USB to the laptop as usual. Whoops. Spent over an hour trying to get the latest version back. I even went digging through the hidden files in hopes of an AutoRecover version with at least some of my revisions. No such luck. In the end I had to redo everything from memory 🙁

  • Unicorn

    Oh my gosh, 18 whole pages gone. Good grief. Well, I once succeeded in getting rid of a whole novel whilst writing the very last chapter, and the worst part is that the errors were all mine and not the computer’s. I tried to type “And”; instead of hitting Shift+A I hit Ctrl+A, selected the entire document, and reduced it to two sad little letters, “nd”. Panicking, I tried to undo it by going Ctrl+Z, but went Ctrl+S instead. I plead insanity and a temporary IQ of negative three. Thankfully my dad is a computer wizard and I could go shrieking off to him like a demented banshee, and he managed to retrieve it.
    Ever since then I have been diligent with backups, but probably not diligent enough. Thanks for the post and the wakeup call, Misty.

  • Done. By now, Misty, you must have well over 3G!