Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Protect Your Writing From Natural Disasters, Computer Crashes, and Other Unexpected Events

Flashback: I'm working furiously to finish a short fiction piece for my college creative writing course. The words are flowing. The characters are coming to life. The power suddenly cuts off.


And, of course, the entire perfect story (which surely would've gone on to find a publication home in The Atlantic or The New Yorker) disappeared, because I did not hit save once before one of my roommates thought it would be a good idea to mess around with our dorm room's fuse box. I ended up pulling an all-nighter to try and re-create the magic while sleepy and upset.


In my actual (and factual) flashback, I lost one short story (and a first draft at that), but the emotional blow was great at the time. Also, I could've avoided losing most of the story by just hitting save every so often. Now imagine losing everything on your hard drive today. It can and does happen to people every day, and there are things you can do to protect yourself now.

Here are some ways to protect your writing:
  1. Save as you work. My flashback above should give you plenty of incentive to save as you work. It's hard to get back into "THE ZONE" when you're recreating a scene (or set of scenes).
  2. Save files on an online site. For instance, my wife prefers using Google docs for all her poetry and Flickr for her images. These sites are good, because your computer could crash, but your files won't be affected. 
  3. Use external hard drive. This is a good way to save important files, but if you do this, I would suggest keeping the external hard drive in a separate location than your actual hard drive. After all, the external hard drive won't help out much when a fire, tornado or flood damages your home if it gets destroyed along with the regular hard drive.
  4. Find an online backup service. There are many companies that offer online backup services for reasonable rates. For instance, Carbonite offers unlimited data storage for $54.95 per year; Mozy has rates as low as $5.99 per month.
  5. Keep copy offsite. I know I recommended this in step 3, but I think it's advice worth repeating and bolding. A copy only helps in unexpected disasters if it's separated from the original.
  6. Print copies. This is old school, but you could always have a paper copy of writing just in case all the data storage in the world is wiped out by an electromagnetic pulse or intense solar flare. Of course, if that happens, the last thing you might be worried about is whether you have a copy of your unpublished manuscript.
While these are all good strategies separately, I would advise using a combination of strategies. When we're talking about our writing, it really is better to be safe than sorry.


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Book Club Reviewer said...

Simple, but helpful. Thanks! Of course, I've ALWAYS hit "save" throughout my work, even while in college. You have NO idea how much that saved me.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thanks, Chica! Yes, it is pretty simple, but many don't take the time to protect themselves.

Lisa Cohen said...

I can't agree more with you. We had a house fire December 1. Because my husband is a belt and suspenders kind of guy, we had a whole house automated backup drive. But it was in the basement. That's where the fire started. Said backup drive was a melted puddle of slag on the basement floor.

Fortunately, all the hard drives were able to be salvaged AND I had just started using dropbox for all my writing, so no data loss.

I totally agree that multiple redundancies, on and off site are critical.

Jennifer Ruth Jackson said...

I'm really slow on the technology. I still get my film developed instead of using a digital so I just have them put it on disks for me so I can transfer it on computer.

For my writing, I just E-mail myself from another address. It works and I put it all in a folder on there.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

That's right, Lisa. It really does pay to be cautious.

Jennifer, that's sort of like how Tammy uses Google Docs. Of course, if anything ever happens to Google, then I don't know...

Stacy S. Jensen said...

I wondered about google docs, but recently some folks temporarily lost their gmail. Could you lose Google docs?

Kaye Manro said...

I agree with all of this. Save, save, save. Several places. I use an external hard drive (has my life on it) and a flash. I backup online too. I know exactly what you felt when you lost your story because a similar thing happened to me a while back. It was terrible. Solar flares-- yeah with the activity going on now, it could happen. And zap! Everything goes. In that case, hard copies in a safe place would be a blessing!

Romi said...

Save, Save, Save. I also use an external hard drive, flash drive, CDs, "floppies" in addition to internal hard drive. Haven't tried
Google docs but will now think about adding that to my list. :)

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Stacy, I think it's possible to lose your data using any one (or even two) method. But by diversifying, you increase your protection.

Kaye, solar flares are scary. And yeah, I think hard copies are a good policy.

Romi, you've definitely got your bases covered.

Jacklyn Cornwell said...

It also helps to have a backup battery. That will give you 15 minutes to save and shut down before the electricity goes off. It always works.

J M Cornwell
Among Women

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thanks for the tip, J.M.