Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

Imagine it. Last night you finished polishing your 80,000-word masterpiece. After a year of wrestling with characters and plot demons, you finally have the best work of your life ready to send off to your dream agent. Euphoric, you flip the switch on your laptop, fired up to get your query out.

But something's wrong. Your files are gone! Frantic, you search the hard drive, and quickly realize that your computer's been wiped clean. The nice geek at the store takes your money and confirms that yes, everything's gone.

"Do you have a backup?" he asks.

"A what?" you cry as you collapse into a puddle of tears...

Don't let that be you!

It's Tech Tuesday on my blog, but since many of you aren't Scrivener users, I thought I'd find another tech-related topic to share here.

There's a good article in the RWR this month about protecting your computer from viruses and spyware. If you're not familiar with the steps to take to protect your valuable technology, I highly suggest you give it a read.

What the article didn't talk about was the importance of backing up your files. Viruses, hard-drive crashes, and family members have all been known to destroy/delete important files.

So, how can you protect yourself from tragedy?

The simplest way to back up your files is with a flash drive (AKA thumb drive, USB drive, jump drive). You just plug it in, copy your files over, and you're done.

I recommend keeping the flash drive separate from the computer. In fact, if you leave the house, you might take it with you. Not to be sensationalist, but if the house burns down, or someone steals your computer, you don't want the flash drive to go right along with it. That defeats the whole purpose.

Alternatives to the flash drive include external hard drives, CDs, floppy disks, etc.

Ideally, in addition to keeping a local backup of your files, you'd also have an offsite backup. The easiest way to do this is with an online service. For example, I'm a Mac user, so I use MobileMe. I copy files to the online folder, and they're stored offsite on Apple's server. Now, if I lose my computer and flash drive in a fire, the files are still available online.

Check with your Internet Service Provider. You probably already have online storage space available to you.

None of these systems are any good if you don't use them. I suggest a daily backup of your manuscript and any related documents that you've changed. In addition to writing files, don't forget about family photos, financial files, job history/resumes, and anything else you wouldn't want to lose.

I hope you never suffer from a crashed hard drive, serious virus, house fire, or kool-aid in the laptop, but if you do, may you have a backup!


Callie James said...

I've recently started taking my jump drive with me. Good advice.

Arlene said...

I take mine with me, too ... but then I have nightmares that it gets lost somewhere. I have more than one flash drive, but only the one has the most up-to-date info.

Jeanie said...

Heart Attack City! Yes, I back my stuff up on a jump drive. I also email it to my office from my laptop and send it to my husband's email as well. Good advice, all. Thanks, Gwen.

Gwen Hernandez said...

I'm glad to see that everyone is so prepared already!

Jeanie: I love your multi-pronged approach. Paranoia is definitely healthier than a heart attack. ;-)

Heather said...

I love the podcast "I Should Be Writing." One suggestion given for a backup option on the podcast was your iPod. I haven't tried that yet, but I am intrigued.

What are your thoughts on an internet backup like Mozy or Drop Box?

Gwen Hernandez said...

I haven't tried backing up to my iPod, but I had students who used to do that. It would be a good way to take it with you too.

As far as Mozy and DropBox, I don't have any experience with them, but if you check out this page at PC Magazine, they have reviews of several online backup companies.


The Review Roundup has some good points to consider, and the Top Rated Products section has ratings for many of the companies. The editors seem impressed with DropBox.

Hope that helps!

Amy DeTrempe said...

Years ago I lost five chapters right in the middle of my novel. I knew what happened but I could not begin to create the exact words I ahd written. I was ill. From then on I backed up at the end of every day. Now I use the flashdrives. I have two actually (I may be just a bit paranoid). They are always in my purse and go with me whereever I am.

Christine said...

Two flash drives, one mega backup disk--after BIG lesson learned when my old computer ate my book. We found it, but it was a very sickening experience (not this one, but another book).

Great post!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Amy: So sorry you lost your words, but glad you're keeping them safe now.

This made me think of something else important. When I was teaching Word, students sometimes would get to the end of a project and have the computer freeze up. Unfortunately, many of them hadn't even saved the file yet, so they lost all of their work.

I was constantly harping on them to "save as you go". Most writing programs and word processors do this automatically, and you can set the frequency.

Happy writing!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Christine, I'm glad you found the file. That would be a heartbreaking feeling.

M.V.Freeman said...

That whole scenario gives me hives...

I have two back ups, an external hard drive and thumb drive.

I have lost a chapter or two...that is the worlds worst moment.

Gwen Hernandez said...

I'm with you, Mary. I'm gratified to see that everyone is playing it safe with their files.

Or maybe it's just the savvy folks who are willing to comment today! ;-)

M.V.Freeman said...

LOL, I think even with the best protection the scary thing is, that even thumb drives and external hard drives fail.

Sometimes you can't protect against everything...but we can try.!!!

Geez, I am I negative or what?

Gwen Hernandez said...

Mary, we'll go with cynical optimist. =)

Everything can fail, but the more backups you have the better chance that you'll beat the odds. If your hard drive, thumb drive, and external drive all fail at the same time, I recommend you go play the lottery!

Louisa Cornell said...

I learned about backup the hard way. I had finished my first novel (it ended up finaling in the Golden Heart that year). It was over 100K and I had written the entire thing on my desktop computer. The only copy in existence was ON MY DESKTOP COMPUTER !!

And, you guessed it, said desktop crashed in a MAJOR way! I freaked out completely! Made the mistake of telling my Mom who promptly told my brothers. I got phone calls from both brothers in short order SCREAMING at me "You didn't back it up ANYWHERE? Are you NUTS??"

Enter Tammy Lynn's hubby, Neal !! (Many of you have met him at Southern Magic Readers Luncheons) He rescued my novel from the jaws of death, along with most of my other files and loaded them onto my new desktop. After which I backed up said novel on a disk, two jump drives and mailed it to myself and my CP.

Lesson learned. I backup as I go. I have my files on my desktop and my laptop AND I have everything on my two jump drives - that go EVERYWHERE with me.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Louisa! Another heart-stopping story with--thankfully--a happy ending. I'm sorry you had to learn the hard way, but glad you were able to recover your file.

Theresa Milstein said...

I e-mail myself copies of my drafts because only when my manuscript is safely tucked in cyberspace do I feel better.

MaryC said...

Does anyone else use Google Docs? I like doing my drafting on Google Docs because that way it's saved externally and I can access it from any computer I happen to be working on.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Theresa: Emailing it to yourself is not a bad idea if your emails reside on the server instead of your computer.

Mary: I haven't tried GoogleDocs, but it sounds interesting. I like the idea of accessing it from anywhere (which I can do from MobileMe as well, but it's not free). Are files on GoogleDocs protected from people doing searches? I mean can they be private?

Cari Hislop said...

Another good point is using up to date computers. If you can't afford a new one, write on paper and then type it up. At the end of '03 I was using an old computer my husband had assembled from parts over the previous decade. He'd recently bought a new computer so I had exclusive use of the old one. Neither of us thought to save my work onto his new computer. I was also using his old work laptop. It was over two inches thick, but I could write in bed. All went well until one day I dropped the laptop which had on it a whole book I'd just finished. I hadn't saved any ofn it because the process of saving it required me to get help (it was that old). I went into shock...two years work...gone! I think that same day I sat down and frantically started trying to remember scenes and conversations, but the story refused to start the same way. It was as if the story wanted to do something different.

Did I learn from my mistake? No! Several months later my helpful husband was jiggering with my old computer and he blew out the hardrive. I had only saved one book because the computer was so old the floppy disc drive was tempermental and required me to get help...so I'd got my husband to help me copy one book which I'd printed off but he'd been so irritated with the comptuer he said he'd finish later. The next afternoon years of work disapeared in a few bright sparks, but there was a silver lining in the rain cloud. I had to rewrite all my stories and because of that I ended up with better stories. The one story I saved I know now should have been lost because it too needs to be completely re-written. Now everything I write on my computer is saved to some site on line...though since my husband set it up for me...I don't know where it's saved to. I should probably find this out!!!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Cari- Ouch! That had to be a tough experience. =(

I agree with you about using up-to-date technology. At our last meeting, Laura Hayden was talking about making sure you convert older files to a program you can read them in now.

I'm glad you finally have backups, and--yes!--I'd definitely find out where they are. =D

MJFredrick said...

I use Dropbox and love it. I was having computer issues and it saved my sanity. You can pick up right where you left off on another computer. Awesome.

Gwen Hernandez said...

MJ, I've heard good things about DropBox. I'm glad it's working for you. Thanks for sharing!