Backup—A Writer’s PSA

I recently had a hard drive melt down. Fortunately it was a backup drive and my actual primary drive was fine. Also, I’m a backup fanatic. So I rarely lose data. As a writer, you should be a backup fanatic too. If you’re not making sure that your stories are protected from being eaten by a glitch, nobody is.

When was the last time you backed up?

Off site?

If backing up isn’t something you’ve done within the last seven days, it’s time. If it’s been more than a month since you backed up off site, get on it! If you’ve got a cd burner and an envelope, you can send stuff to relatives or friends from time to time or you can email it to a dummy account at Yahoo or Hotmail or Gmail. Don’t wait. I know of at least two case of writers losing a week or so of work – one to fire, one to robbery. However since they both did a regular off-site backup that was all they lost. If they hadn’t backed up, goodbye to everything!

I use a USB flash drive that holds all my writing, plus all of the other files that I regularly change plus I email files to a web account on a regular basis. I back my writing up daily and I keep the drive with my wallet and phone. If I leave the house, so does it. So, complete a story? email it to a friend or web account. Ditto for a novel. Every couple of months I also burn a session on my backup cds and swap them for the ones I keep with a relative. It’s not much hassle once you get in the habit, and so much easier than starting over.

When was the last time you backed up?

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  1. 1. brian t

    There are a few services that offer automatic offsite backup and replication of files. Windows Live Mesh is one, but the one I use is called Dropbox (http;// Once the client is installed (Windows, Mac or Linux), it watches the specified folder for changes, immediately uploads them to their server, then sends them back out to all other Dropbox clients that you have online. It also replicates deletions of files, but you can restore deleted files via their website. It keeps several versions of a file that gets multiple revisions, and you can even revert to an older version if you need to. Best of all, it’s free for the first GB of space used.

  2. 2. Tom Gallier

    I haven’t backed up on a CD, though I guess I could. I have the CDs and the proper drive. But I do the same thing with the USB Jump drive, taking it everywhere. Also, I e-mail all my “completed” stories to a Hotmail account. Maybe I shouldn’t wait for them to be complete, and do a weekly e-mail of WIP, too.

    Thanks! You got me thinking.

  3. 3. Terie Garrison

    I keep copies of all my manuscripts on my PC at work (with permission, of course), in my e-mail (which is retained on my ISP’s server–probably in Asia), on my home PC, and, for the current WIPs, on my AlphaSmart. I figure that if all four of those get destroyed at the same time, it means the earth exploded and at that point, I’ll neither know nor care. Grin!

    I e-mail my work to my special backup account each night, so not only is it backed up, but if I decide to change something and then switch it back, I can dig out an older version.

  4. 4. doug

    I’m not a writer, but I do take care of regular backup of work I do for school and what not. I use Dropbox (, which is an automated online backup system that monitors whatever folders you tell it to watch on your computer and automatically uploads changes each time you save.

  5. 5. Paolo

    My last backup was last night, 10:13 PM PST. And I did not have to do a thing, Time Machine took care of all the dirty work while I was typing up an author interview.

    I’m no Mac partisan (I work with 3 different PCs at my day job) but if somebody would like to decrease worrying about details and focus on the actual writing, I would definitely advise the switch.

  6. 6. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    When I was dissertating, I knew people who would put print copies of their manuscripts in the fridge, since usually the insides are safe in a fire. I just backed up yesterday, and I also keep a USB backup daily.

  7. 7. Julia

    I email copies to myself – but haven’t lately. After reading your post I think I’ll burn a cd and give it to a relative for safekeeping. Better safe than sorry. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. 8. Adam Heine

    I didn’t back up much in the past, until I had two hard drive failures in a row and lost 6 months worth of work and pictures.

    If you’re lazy about backing up like I was, you need to know that the question is not if your hard drive will die, but when. A typical hard drive has a life of about 3-8 years. That means if your computer is 3 years old, your hard drive could literally go at any time, and there will be nothing you can do to get your data back.

    I use DeltaCopy to automatically mirror my files to a network drive elsewhere in the house. Once a month, I make a copy of that mirror to a third place.

    Unfortunately, I’m still lazy. I need to copy that mirror off-site in case of robbery (fire’s not really a problem here; all the houses are brick and concrete), but it’s gigs of stuff and our internet connection isn’t strong enough for me to upload it all. Gotta figure something out though.

  9. 9. Josh

    I just started using something called JungleDisk for backups (google it.) It’s backup software that makes use of Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) which is internet cloud storage. I use JungleDisk to backup all of my important files off-site automatically once per week. With S3, I pay $0.15/GB per month for storage and $0.10/GB per month for transfer and I pay only for what I use with no minimums. If you’re like me and you have less than 6GB of files that need off-site backup the cost will be less than $1 per month. The JungleDisk software has a one-time cost of $20. This seems really inexpensive to me for an off-site backup that you don’t even have to think about.

  10. 10. mikaela

    I admit. I am lousy when it comes to backups. I plan to do it, but forget. It is intresting, I e-mail myself versions of university essays and stuff. Anyway thanks for the reminder, since I have 2-4 projects due to revision and I want to submit them

  11. 11. Kelly McCullough

    Wow, thanks for all the comments. Sorry some of you got hung up in moderation for longer than I usually let things sit. Yesterday got kind of crazed. Some great suggestions in there.

    Google disk is particularly handy.

    I’m a fan of Time Machine too, unfortunately, that’s the hard drive that crashed. My Mac consistently eats Time Machine hard drives–a problem I hope to solve when I replace my current laptop some time in the next month or two. But even with Time Machine it really makes sense to back up offsite.

    Offsite is key to any serious backup plan. Single site backup is subject to problems from fire, theft, flood, a lightning stirke that takes down both primary and backup hard drives because they’re both plugged in the same house, tornado, etc.

    Redundancy is also key. I know too many people who have had backup software go mungy and only found out about it when a primary storage failure led them to discover that there single point backup system was also toast. Writing only the directory and writing corrupt data are two big problems that a munged single backup system is prey to, especially when the primary system goes corrupt slowly so that it starts overwriting good backup data with bad. That’s why I store copies of the WIP on a gmail account and do the CD backups and keep an 8 gig USB drive in my pocket.

  12. 12. Shannon Hearn

    Knowing that computer systems crash and given that I bounce between two computers, I use a web-based wordpressor such as Buzzword ( ) The system offers offsite storage and realtime document editing. You can upload a document to the system and have access to it wherever you have web access.

    I have been writing on it for the past year or so and other than scheduled updates that they usually run on latenights every few months, the system is good for pounding out your work and it has the ability to export in multiple formats so that you can run it through your full version word processor.

    The abilty to send the file to muliple users via the share document link system in this web app is a recent update that I have taken advantage of when I want to share my work in progress.

    Whenever I update my story, I download it to both of my computers and work on the web version knowing that even if the computer crashes and or is lost, I have a current copy that I can get to at a moments notice. That is why I use this type of system, just out of practicality.


  13. 13. Daemonworks

    For in-home backup, buy an external RAID/5 unit. They are a bit expensive, but are very secure. Each will usually contain four hard drives. Two of those have to fail at the same time for any data to be lost. If one fails, pull out the drive, pop in a new one, and it’ll spend a few hours chugging away to rebuild that level of redundancy. This is insane overkill if all you want to backup is stories, but for any sort of media, from photography to movies, this is your best bet. There are other sorts of RAID types with differing effects, do your homework. If you use foreign-language characters in filenames, doube check to find out if the RAID unit supports that – not all do. (I found this out the hard way)

    Also, for the love of all that’s holy, use proper surge protection. Ideally a UPS (uninteruptable power supply) – it’ll not only protect your computer from power spikes, but if you lose power, they have a built-in battery that will run the important parts for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, depending on the quality of the unit and how many things you plug into the battery-powered outlets.

    For offline backup of stories – Google is cheap and simple. Either email it to a gmail account, or put them into Google Docs – ideally in an account with a name nobody will guess that’s only used for that one purpose.


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Author Information

Kelly McCullough

Kelly McCullough is a fantasy and science fiction author. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series—Penguin/ACE. His short fiction has appeared in numerous venues including Writers of the Future and Weird Tales. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star—part of an NSF-funded science curriculum—and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited—funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Visit site.



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