Thursday, December 17, 2015

Arm Yourself Against Data Loss

They say there are two types of writers: 

1) Those who have lost work


2) those who will. 

That's the truth. And that's why I'm writing this post, as a plea to protect your work. I'm writing this now because in the last six months, I've had three friends who are professional writers and/or publishing professional s lose or almost lose huge amounts of data because they didn't have the proper safeguards in place. 

In one case, everything the writer had worked on for decades was on his laptop. He needed some kind of service on it requiring the hard drive to be wiped, so he backed up the entire thing on an external hard drive. So far, so good. But the backup failed. The data wasn't retrievable after all. He was absolutely sick over losing his life's work until a tech support person was able to dig deep enough to realize that this writer had installed a backup service, and that it was backing up his entire computer remotely all along without the writer being aware of it. He ended up losing only a week or so of work instead of decades's worth. 

In another case, the writer did make occasional backups, but it's easy to forget and put off doing a backup, from a day to a week, to months. And that's the situation she found herself in when her laptop was stolen at an airport. She lost a year's worth of work (hundreds of thousands of words) as well as priceless and irreplaceable family photos. 

The third case also involved a robbery, this time when thieves broke into her home, taking her laptop along with many other items. The other things can be replaced. Her personal creative work cannot. 

Each time I heard the news of a friend losing data, I ached inside. Having your creative work taken from you forever is soul-crushing. 

It's even worse when you know that you could have done something to prevent it. 

I know of what I speak of. I'm not talking about losing a page of two if the power goes out or the time when my son was a baby and he crawled over to the computer tower, turned it off, and I lost a chapter or so.

I've experienced worse, and I refuse to ever again. Think you're immune? You're not. 

As a preteen, I wrote a fantasy novel. Rather, I wrote most of a fantasy novel, and I typed it as in, on an actual typewriter. Because I'm that old. Writing that book was my happy place. 

The fall I entered 8th grade, Dad ended up helping a tech company with a side job using his linguistics background, and as part of that, a computer entered our house for the first time. 

Recognizing the future when I saw it, I promptly started transferring my (still unfinished, but sizable) fantasy novel into the computer. In the process, I revised and expanded what was on the page. Day after day after, I came home from the misery of junior high and slipped into the zone of my happy place. 

As I finished typing up each page of my original typewriter draft, I happily threw it away, an act that felt like an accomplishment in some way. 

Shortly after I finished getting it all written and saved in digital format, and before I finished the story, someone suggested that I get a backup copy of the file because you never knew. It was always a good idea to have a backup, just in case. 

Dad agreed, and he promised to get a floppy disk (again, yes, I'm that old), and we'd make a copy. He came home from work one day with the promised floppy disk. But my file had somehow become corrupted. Out of probably 60,000 words, I had 14 measly lines left. 


I stared at the screen. That couldn't be right. Murphy isn't that cruel with his stupid law, is he?

The techie guy working on my dad's project thought he might be able to find the rest of the file or figure out what had happened. He tried. He failed. 

And then the reality sank in. What amounted to my life's work (at the age of almost 14) was gone. Erased. Wiped out of existence. I hadn't even saved the typed rough draft pages. How could I not have at least saved the pages until I got the file onto a floppy disk? 

Ever since, I've been almost maniacal about having backup copies. I used to print out hard copies of all of my manuscripts too, just in case. 

Marrying a computer scientist turned out to be particularly helpful in my quest to never lose large amounts of work ever again. This is the man who got me an e-mail address before I really grasped what the Internet was, when I asked, "Why will I ever want this?" to which he replied, "Trust me." (He was right, of course.) 

He kept me well stocked with floppy disks, followed by zip drives and other backups as technology developed. 

Today I have a external hard drive that's a copy of an old computer, but what I rely on most is an off-site backup service. 

External hard drives can be helpful, but they can also fail. If your house burns down, or there's flooding, an external drive will do you absolutely no good. 

Thumb drives are notorious for failing. They're great for transferring files from place to place. I use them a lot when speaking at conferences in case my laptop won't connect to a projector. I can always plug the thumb drive into another laptop. But I won't rely on one of those things as my primary backup. No way. 

Here Are Four Ways to Cover Your Bases:

Have your computer automatically back up every few minutes. 
You can tell Word and Scrivener how often to do that; in Scrivener, you can make it a matter of every few seconds. 

Use E-mail as a Backup.
I know many writers who e-mail themselves their own files; some do so after each work day, some less often. Either way, your files are in a safe place in your computer fails. 

Use a Cloud Service.
You've probably heard of Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive. They (and others) offer free accounts with a limited amount of space (but plenty of room for text documents, if you're a writer). In many cases, you can work offline, and the file syncs next time you're online. They're a great FREE resource with an easy user interface, and even if you fill up your space, you can pay a small amount for more. 

Have an Automated Backup System. 
As long as your computer is connected to the Internet, these systems will make a copy of any change in your computer, and do so daily without your ever having to remember to do it. They keep a month's worth of copies, so you can drill down to any version of a file you need form the last 30 days to find the exact one you're looking for. If your laptop is stolen, dies with a gasp, gets taken over by a virus, or whatever, you can download everything to a brand new laptop, including your programs and directories. At most, you'll only ever lose changes since the last backup, which is always within the last 24 hours. (Another reason why using e-mail or something like Dropbox is a good idea on top of this.)

Because these services are so thorough, the first backup can take days, but it works in the background, and you can still use your computer like you would any other day. After that, a backup is quick and again, always in the background. 

We used Mozy for years and recently switched to Backblaze, which we found to be more intuitive and more affordable. They have backup systems of their own, so your data is pretty darn safe.

I never worry anymore that I've lost data because I haven't. It's always retrievable. And I know that because I've had to retrieve files from the backups, several times. 

My Plea

Whatever you do, don't rely entirely on your own computer's internal backup or on an external drive. 

With so many cloud services, including free ones, and with free e-mail services, you have no excuse to not have backups of your work. 

I guarantee that the ones and zeroes that make up your writing are incredibly fragile. Something will happen to them at some point, whether that's a virus or something else. You will lose some work. We can hope it'll be a only a few hundred words, but what if it's an entire novel? 

When you lose data (because you will), be sure you can restore it. 

And in the meantime, you can rest (and write) easy, knowing that even if hardware fails, even if thieves ruin your day, even if you get a Trojan horse, you'll always be able to get your work back. 


An Unexpected Proposal, my first novella to ever come out with the Timeless Romance Anthology series, is now available as a single for 99 cents. 

And my second novella, Chasing Tess, from the TRA Spring Collection, is up for pre-order as a single, also for only 99 cents. Order it now, and it'll download to your device on Christmas day! 

I have other novellas that will be going live soon, plus a really fun project coming in January that you'll want to keep your eyes open for! 

1 comment:

Susan Anderson said...

I've lost work as well, and one was a complete autobiography…which I have never recreated because it just sort of did me in to lose it.

Having said that, I now use Airport to back up every day, and I also have all of my documents on disks, which disks I keep in our safe deposit box. Likewise, I have put much of my poetry on a poetry website which is also backed up.

Believe it or not, I still worry sometimes!



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