Essential Strategies for Backing Up Your Work

For some, it’s just a matter of uploading to the cloud. However writers have a number of challenges unique to their trade.

Let me start by reminding you that the “cloud,” regardless of whose cloud, is just someone else’s computer. They spend gazillion of dollars making sure that nothing is ever lost by providing multiple back-ups at numerous locations around the country, perhaps the world. It’s still just someone else’s machine. Your novel is about a bicycle race, upload to the cloud, and the next day Facebook is displaying ads by on-line bicycle accessory shops on your feed. If they’re not there yet, they will be soon.

Making a copy of our work is different for writers because of the creative nature of our product. We can bring into existence a person, a family, an entire universe one day, and decide to erase it the next. What happens to that universe, a full day’s effort that just didn’t pan out for the plot, after it’s deleted? Seems demonic to just eradicate it.

Here’s what I suggest. By the time I’m finished, you’ll understand why I say that simply backing up your file is not sufficient.

You wake up at 3:00 a.m. with an idea for the great American novel. You throw yourself at the computer, start with a fresh page on a blank, yet unnamed file. You pound away for 3,000 words until you see daylight poking its way through the drapes. Time to rest.

Clicking on the Save icon, you’re prompted to give the file a name. In Microsoft Word, it grabs the first sentence from your file. For me, that’s usually something to effect of, “Slowly she unbuttoned her blouse.docx.”

You may invent a working file name, or are sufficiently inspired to have the perfect title already on hand. “GreatAmericanNovel” you type, and every time you add to the work, you save it, upload it to the cloud—or another device—and put it away. The next day, open “GreatAmericanNovel.docx” with 30,000 words, add another 5,000, and keep going. Rinse, lather, repeat. 40,000 words, 45,000 words, 50,000 words.

“Damn,” you say, “I had that chapter with Zorba’s universe a while back, but I deleted it. A lot of that would fit in great here. Do I remember it all?”

But you don’t. having deleted that scene weeks earlier, the upload to the cloud, or overwrite saving it locally replaced the file. Those perfect turns-of-phrase are gone forever.

Here’s my strategy.

Initial save: GreatAmericanNovel_001
Next save: GreatAmericanNovel_002
Next save: GreatAmericanNovel_003
Deleting a major scene, I save before I do the deletion: GreatAmericanNovel_004_deleting Zorbas universe
Do the deletion, then immediately save again: GreatAmericanNovel_005

Alternatively you can create a separate Word document in which you track scenes… a record of which files have a person or thing erased from existence; this can be appended to an outline if you do them.

Just to be clear, I don’t save only at the end of a session’s work. I save the document, without renaming it, every few minutes, then save under a new number every few pages written. If I’ve completed a passage or chunk of dialogue that I think is remarkable, I’ll save again, just to be sure. Then, at day’s end, I save both as the old number and a new number. Think I’m being excessive? You should have seen what Dickens wrote before, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” You really think he wanted to do a sing-songy, it was this, it was that? What he had first was a lot better until his Commodore 64 crashed, so he just zipped off what he could remember.

Recently, I’ve been having issues with Microsoft Word… actually, I’ve had problems since 1990; I’m convinced whoever created Office, never actually worked in an office. By I digress. When Word does an automatic back-up, occasionally it fails and crushes the last named file of that work. So, I save often. It’s not unusual for me to get to GreatAmericanNovel_400 and higher, that’s why I use 3-digit numbers.

Each iteration has a date and time stamp, too. That comes in handy as well. You may remember a passage that you deleted like this, “I was working after dinner that night. We had lasagna. HEY HONEY… WHAT NIGHT DID WE HAVE LASAGNE?” And you find the file by date and time.

Of course, you need to get those files off your computer in the event of a hard disk crash, fire, or theft. I back up on thumb drives. Recently, I got a pack of 5-16Gb drives for about $25 from a vendor on Amazon. I use two drives at a time. One I keep in a bedroom in my house away from my work-space and back up almost every day I work—that is, every day. On the other, I do a backup whenever I think of it—each week or so—and keep that one in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, NOT the freezer.

Like most writers, I have more than one project going at a time. I share the thumb-drives, separating projects by folders.

When I complete a project, I copy all my files, which may include extensive research files, onto one of these inexpensive drives, label it, and give it to my brother to keep at his house.

Of course, if you trust them, you can still use the cloud, but I strongly suggest, if you do, have a copy of all your files off your computer, but nearby on reliable media. Murphy has a sense of humor: that night you need to access your files from the cloud will be the night they’re doing routine maintenance.

As always, any and all creative suggestions and comments are welcome.

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