Thursday, June 4, 2015

Backing Up Your Babies

Nothing causes showers of tears, and violent bursts of expletives, more than losing a file you’ve been working on, whether it is a chapter or an entire story.

Backing up your files is easy to put off. Once you've lost important data, though, you are left with scars that are slow to heal.

Last time, we discussed how to organize your files to make backup easier. Let's look at a few ways to backup them up.

1. You can purchase a cloud storage program which backs up daily.

Pros: There are many cloud services to choose from. Some of the programs, such as Carbonite, automatically save every file every day. You can access your files from virtually any device. You don't lose the saved data if your computer crashes. You tell the program which files and folders to backup and they stay in that configuration.

Cons: There are usually monthly/annual fees.Your notebook, laptop, or PC needs to be on and have access to the internet to perform the backup. You can search for a specific file, but forget what you named it.

2. You can attach and program an external drive to backup daily.

Pros: You have your own "cloud." The drives are getting larger and less expensive every day. You don't have to access the internet or Wi-Fi to retrieve files.

Cons: The software of the backup drives can save files in a way that makes it harder to find them when you need them. They often save in "batches" by date rather than intuitively finding and replacing files that have been edited. Your device must be attached and on for the backup to take place. A savvy user can simply use it to store files and manually move them when you want to, maintaining your organizational system, but it is easy to forget to do it.

3. You can email the file to yourself at the end of every session.

Pros: Your files are safe if your computer crashes. It is free and easy.

Cons: It can be time consuming to sort through the emails and easy to forget to email them to yourself. You have to have access to the internet to mail and retrieve the files. Your in-box can fill up quickly and most have storage limits. Most services allow you to create unique folders to save your emails in. Some services will automatically erase documents after a period of time. You wouldn't want to backup all of your computer files, photos, or videos this way and risk losing them when you run out of storage space.

4. You can save the files on a USB drive at the end of every session.

Pros: They are small and easily portable. You can transfer files from one device to another. Drives are getting smaller with more memory at a less cost. You don't have to access the internet to retrieve files.

Cons: You can accidentally overwrite a previous version if you don’t rename the file. USB drives can be damaged or misplaced because of their size.

5. You can permanently move all of your files off of the device.

I have had several "blue screen of death" moments. The kind that make you feel viciously lethal and equally nauseated.

The thing that recently occurred to me is this: I don’t have to save my files on the PC, laptop, or device at all, ever.

USB pen drives and external drives come in small packages with massive memory. I currently have a pen drive with 256 gigabytes of storage space. You could store and save all of your documents and files on a USB pen or a USB connected external drive.

You can create folders and subfolders on the drive in the same manner that you would your Desktop or My Documents folder. That way, if your computer crashes, the files aren’t on it and they aren’t floating around in the cloud either. You don't need to involve the internet. You are certain your documents are on it.

After the initial cost of purchase, there is no monthly or annual fee. The USB can remain plugged into a port all of the time. When you open a file, you just need to look under the designated drive (E:, F:, or M: etc.) instead of My Documents or Desktop.

You could purchase a new drive every one or two years (just in case) and copy the files from one USB to another. If you don’t have enough USB ports on your laptop or computer, you can always add a multiple USB hub or copy all the files onto your computer then onto the new USB drive. The files are easily portable from one device to another.

I double my protection by backing up my USB drive files to an external terabyte drive at least once every 3 months along with all my photos, videos, etc.  I have terabytes of video and image files.

Both drives are plugged into USB ports and I simply copy files from one drive to another. It will save you a whole lot of heartache (and money) when your software crashes or your device dies without warning.

None of these methods keep you from accidentally overwriting a file if you don't rename it, so make a habit of renaming new versions of your manuscript with each round of changes.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. This is a great post, Diana. While it may not seem on first glance to contribute to BSP, I see a distinct connection because one or more good backup systems contribute to the overall production of a book without danger of a devastating file loss that can undermine the whole process. Self-promotion cannot happen until all those ducks that must go before are in a row. And by the way, you've covered a subject that has been on my mind the past several days. I lost a hard drive several months ago, and my backup system was far from perfect in its organization of my files. I still haven't found everything, even though I have had a good tech friend work on locating them. Thanks for the info. I'll be putting it to good use. :-)

    1. I was backing up one day for hours and thought: there has to be an easier way. Then it occurred to me!

  2. I email 5,000 word chunks of my ms to myself. Once done, it goes on a flash drive.

    1. It is definitely safer in email than your PC or laptop which can expire unannounced. :)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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