Last updated on October 12, 2016
I migrated to a new computer this weekend, and it is probably something that was long overdue. My tower stopped working, and while I, in an amateurish way diagnosed the problem as a failed power supply, the motherboard had actually stopped working. Not a simple or cheap fix, and with the price of parts and labor, I could just buy a reconditioned machine.
On top of that, my son, now 14 needs a computer more and more for school. I have a laptop I have been using, or rather overusing, and he needs a device of his own so he doesn’t have to rely on my wife and I, whose devices are often occupied with our own work.
The last time I did this was just a few years ago, but things have changed. Much more of my information and my software licensing is stored in the cloud, which also ensures that they are secure. Fortunately, I had just backed up all of my files before my computer took its final electronic breath.
However, I hear stories every day of authors whose laptops or home computers died, and entire novels, short stories, and more are lost, never to be recovered. There is no need for that anymore. Especially if you do the one thing I always tell authors they must do: treat your writing like a business, because it is. You need to have a plan to backup all of your files, and recover them if they are ever lost.
There are several ways authors have used in the past to back up files, and they are still effective. However, in light of modern technology, they are also not as efficient. Still, it’s not a bad idea to use some of them.
E-mail your work to yourself. This one is very common, and I know authors who do this every time they complete a chapter. The good news of this method? As long as you can access your email, you have access to your files. The cons? If you can’t get to your email, or you have a political scandal and delete 33,000 personal emails, and your files are part of those (okay, unlikely), your files can be lost.
Many authors create a unique email account and never delete any of the emails in it, or often don’t even look at them unless disaster strikes and they have to. Something like [email protected] (not real, don’t mail me your stuff at that one) works, since it’s free and if you don’t list it anywhere, your inbox should stay free of spam.
Back up files on an external hard drive. This is still good advice. It never hurts to have a copy of your files on a device that you can take with you anywhere, and recover files even if you do not have access to the internet. A few words of caution:
- Don’t use thumb drives. They are notorious for failing, and the nature of them being small makes it possible they would be lost. This is a good way to keep files mobile, but a bad idea for long term backups.
- Migrate your data to new file formats. It takes a long time for files types to become obsolete, but it does happen, and not being able to recover your data because it cannot be converted to new formats is disheartening at best, tragic at worst.
- Store hard drives in a safe location. Fire proof safes in your home, a safe deposit box (although this makes it harder to access) or somewhere apart from your property is the wisest choice. Fire, flood, and other disasters can destroy your hard work, and while it is not the worst thing that might happen, losing nine months of work on a novel is an additional heartbreak.
Used wisely, external hard drives are a good option, and frequent (at least weekly) back ups are a really good idea. There are of course more modern backup methods. You have to be connected to the internet to recover your data, but in an age of connectivity everywhere access is fairly assured.
Multiple Cloud Backups. The cloud is essentially your data stored on someone else’s secure servers. They have backups and data recovery plans as well. It never hurts to have a writing folder in more than one cloud app. MOst offer enough free space to back up a number of documents, and offer large amounts of storage for a nominal fee.
- Google Drive: This is storage offered by Google under your Google Account. Depending on how many files you have to store, the free 15G storage may be adequate, or for $1.99 a month you can add more. Just keep in mind that the storage limit includes your Gmail files and Google + photos.
- OneDrive: This is Microsoft’s answer to cloud storage/ Free storage is limited to 5GB of data, but if you are a Microsoft 365 subscriber (something I highly recommend for authors) the limit is 1TB, enough room for most if not all of your docs, photos, and music.
- DropBox: Drop Box offers 5GB for free as well, with additional paid options. Of course, if you are just using it to store and share documents, 5GB will be more than enough to back up a ton of text files.
Backing up your files on more than one service ensures that if something happens to that service or you lose access for some reason, your data will still be protected.
Data Recovery. More than once those authors have lost all of their data and have had to start over. But it isn’t necessary. Even if your local computer shop tells you the data is lost, there are companies who specialize in data recovery. One of them, Kroll OnTrack, offers data recovery from almost any device, and they offer this advice:
- Get the device to them as quickly as possible.
- Know what to expect: not all data can be recovered, but a good recovery service will tell you what can be recovered before you pay for it.
- Don’t give up on a damaged device. The data may still be intact. Contact a professional before giving up.
The better hardware and software get, the more likely it is that lost data will not really be lost. Even with catastrophic hardware and software failures, data recovery is possible.
You work hard as a writer, and sometimes it takes months to shape a story the way you really want it to be. Edits take time, and can be costly. So taking data backup as seriously as other businesses do is vital to your long-term success.
Using multiple forms of backup and having a data recovery plan makes this possible and worry free even if you are not technologically adept. That way you can focus on what you are best at. Writing.