How to Backup Your Writing

The technological tools we have for writing today should not be casually passed over by any writer. There is an overabundance of tools available to help us with our craft (I’ve listed a few that I use here and here). But it can be a little intimidating. Even worse, we all know that technology is not 100% reliable. Computers crash, hard drives fail, even the almighty cloud isn’t impervious to data loss. And we don’t even want to imagine what it would feel like to have the first 40,000 words of our masterpiece vanish into cyberspace.

So, what should we do? Are the risks of losing everything in a flash worth the benefits of writing technology?

I answer that question with a resounding, “Yes!” But it’s also a qualified, “yes.” Use the tech, but use it smart.

That means MAKE BACKUPS!!!

Just in case you’re not clear about the ins and outs of online etiquette, yes, I did just yell at you. If you use a computer (or smartphone or tablet) for anything of any importance you need to have a well thought out backup system. Not doing so is just asking for disaster. But at the same time, coming up with a good backup procedure can be time consuming and easily put off. That’s where I want to help you. I can’t set up the whole system for you and I certainly can’t make you use it, but I can give you a nudge in the right direction.

My basic backup procedure is two-fold, and therefore, twice as reliable.

First, I keep daily backups of projects that I’m currently working on. That means every time I close the project, it gets backed up and I always have a recent version available if something goes wrong. Since this is something you’ll be doing quite often, it helps to have backup be automated. I use Scrivener for all of my writing, which makes it quite easy to manage backups since the developers understand the importance of the habit. Just open Preferences for Scrivener and go to the Backup tab. Once you’re there, make sure Automatic Backups are turned on, decide when you want the backups to occur (I use “Backup on project close”), and select a location.  You can do a backup to a different folder on your hard drive, but that won’t help you much if you loose your whole drive. So I recommend using a cloud service for this. If you don’t have any cloud storage, you can sign up with Dropbox and get 2 GB of storage for free — plenty of room for backups.

If you don’t use Scrivener, just save your Word document, or whatever type of file, to a cloud service. You might already be doing this via OneDrive if you use Windows and have an Office 365 subscription. This will ensure that you always have a local copy on your hard drive and a backup saved online that you can access anywhere.

Second, I do weekly backups of my whole system. Some people recommend backing up your whole computer more often, even daily, but I don’t find that necessary. With my open projects backed up online, once a week is plenty for my whole system. For these backups, I just use Time Machine and an external hard drive. Plug in the drive, hit backup now, and it’s done in a few minutes. You’ll have to use a different backup client if you’re on Windows, of course, but the principle is the same.

These very simple backup procedures will make sure that you never lose a word of your precious writing. And, best of all, implementing them won’t eat into your precious writing time.

Do you have any other backup practices that you like to use to keep  your work safe?


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