14th February, 2011: Back it up!

I don’t want to labour the point here, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve read about quite a handful of incidents involving writers losing work. Some of the time its hard drive failure, some of the time it’s just user error and genuine mistakes.

I’ve been there myself, although thankfully have not experienced anything catastrophic. The worst loss I can remember was about 1,000 words from a book… I think it might have been while I was writing Seven Wonders, but I’m not sure. Might have been Ludmila, My Love. Maybe it happened on both!

On that occassion/those occassions, it was a right pain. More than that, however, was the very real feeling of loss. Now, I’m only talking about 1,000 words here, but creative writing often feels like a one-shot kinda thing. As you write your draft, it all pours out of your head and through your fingers to the keyboard. When you’re on a roll the prose is writing itself quicker than you can type it. It’s a marvellous feeling when that happens, so to lose that, no matter how small or how large the chunk of text lost to the ether is, is a Pretty Big Deal for a writer.

But here’s the thing. If you’re a writer with a book contract, one that involves deadlines (possibly several) and money (and in the case of a New York Time best-selling author, possibly quite a bit of money and a complex set of deadlines and milestones, etc), you can’t afford to lose work. I’m a writer in my day-gig as well, and to lose work there (which has also happened) has very serious repercussions in terms of time, money, and the ability to do work in the future.

So while I can empathise with loss of work – and I really can, I’ve been there, it’s bloody awful – I can’t really sympathise. Sorry. If writing is who you are and what you do, you’ve got to have a strategy for backing work up and keeping archives. These days backing up is cheap and easy. There is no excuse. I’m fortunate enough in twenty years of computer ownership never to have had a computer failure or a hard drive failure, but it’ll happen one day. Those couple of memorable losses of work aside, I’ve had plenty of times where Word has crashed mid-sentence, where Scrivener has eaten a scene, where I’ve just either mis-filed something or have overwritten the right file with the wrong one. But I have back-ups, and a couple of minutes later I’m back in business.

If you don’t have a back-up, you need to get one organised today. If you think you’ll never never a back-up, you’re a fool. As the saying goes, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have lost data, and those who will.

For my own back-ups, I save work into three separate folders on my Mac – my main Scrivener file goes in the folder for that particular project; this is also saved into my DropBox folder. Additionally, a zipped back-up of that Scrivener file goes into DropBox as well. Scrivener also creates its own backups automatically, saving the last five sessions as a separate zip file in its own application support folder. Using DropBox also means that the files are duplicated on my Macbook Air, my wife’s Macbook, and her iMac too, not to mention the DropBox server itself which I can access from any computer/device I like.

As I use a Mac I also have Time Machine running, backing up selected folders from my iMac to an external 2TB hard drive. The drive cost me £80, which sounds like a lot, but I can remember a time when a 1TB drive cost the same as a small car and 2TB drives didn’t even exist. Having such a large back-up means I have an archive of all of my writing work going back (so far) to the middle of last year. If I had more spare cash I’d buy another two or three.

Backing up is all about redundancy. The chances of my iMac’s internal hard drive failing are slim. The chances of that internal drive failing AND my 2TB external failing are even less. The chances of that internal drive failing AND my external drive failing AND my Macbook Air failing AND… well, you get the picture.

You don’t even need the £80 for a huge external drive. Get a cheap USB pen drive. Get two. Get a pack of five. DropBox is free and you get 2GB of cloud storage. If you have more than one computer, set up a share between them and save duplicate files.

Back your writing up. There is nothing more important.

A good day on Godless yesterday, although chapter six is still not finished and will probably be either too long, or more likely split into two (six and eight, with seven from Kate in the middle). Editing the whole book as a single manuscript is going to be fun, when we get to that stage!

Project: Godless (horror Western novel, formerly The Gospel of the Godless Stars)
Words today: 2,040
Words total: 19,290/100,000 (19%)
Total words for 2011: 49,797

Books: some pages of Firestarter by Stephen King.
Comics: None yesterday.