Should you back up your writing?

Yes!

Well, that was a short post, eh?

Oh, wait. We can probably be a bit more helpful than that!

Let’s talk about what a backup looks like, and how and when you should do a backup. (And yes, you definitely should be backing up your writing!)

Save often

Most writers, if not all writers, have lost a large amount of work to a word processor crashing, a window closing unexpectedly, or a system update that simply couldn’t wait.

For writers who’ve been at this for a while, the notion of an autosave felt like a science fiction dream come true. Computers aren’t perfect, but they’re better than they used to.

Still, don’t rely on a machine to hold on to your creative output! Remember that Command-S or Control-S is generally the hotkey you need most often. Save every few minutes. Consider getting in the habit of hitting save after every page, or even paragraph, and reduce the risk.

Keeping a physical backup

My sister-in-law places a tremendous amount of value in her digital family photo albums. That’s why she keeps copies of all her photos on three hard drives: one at her house, one at my house, and another in a fireproof safe. That’s an admirable amount of dedication to data redundancy, isn’t it?

You don’t have to go quite so far, but it is a good idea to keep a copy on a memory stick or two. If you have an external hard drive, why not keep a copy of your most precious data stored there? Apple computers have Time Machine built in, and Windows machines have plenty of options to leverage an external drive.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on a single copy of something you’ve poured hours and hours of your life into. I lost the full draft of a novel fifteen years ago when my computer turned off in the middle of an operating system update. Maybe that was the fates telling me that work wasn’t meant for this world, but regardless, it’s gone forever, and there’s no trace. I hope that doesn’t happen to you!

Storage in the cloud

We’re truly living in the future. Software solutions like Dropbox or iCloud are easy ways to automagically save your data into a server farm somewhere else in the world.

These might sound scary at first, but rest assured that your writing will be safe when it’s sent out into the timid-sounding cloud. Simply save your work in a location that’s set to be backed up (for example, Dropbox generally creates a directory called “Dropbox”). Each time you save your work–and remember earlier how we talked about saving frequently–your writing will be sent to a safe location.

Software services like this can even be synchronized across multiple computers. That means that if you save your work on one machine, other machines that are hooked up to the same account will automatically receive the updated document. No more memory stick necessary (but they’re still great for keeping a physical copy!)

Whatever you do, and however you do it, be mindful of your stories. Don’t risk losing the work you’ve invested so much time into. Your future publications will thank you.