Recently my good friend lost her flash drive. Not fun for anyone, but enough to strike fear through the heart of any writer (or anyone, really) who basically lives off their drive like I do. People who follow me on Twitter may have heard my complaining about losing 3,000 words during Camp NaNoWriMo this July from a faulty flash drive. About a year and a half ago, my entire laptop was wiped after going through an x-ray at the airport (rare, but it happens). As I, like many writers, keep most of my writing on my electronic devices (along with songs, pictures, and basically my entire life) my flash drive getting lost, or my computer being lost, wiped, or stolen would be a huge blow both personally and professionally (writing up a novel is not a quick process, if just because they are so long).
So, beyond the general advice of BACK YOUR WORK UP, here are some suggestions on how to do so:
1. External Hard Drive
This is what saved me when my computer was wiped going through the airport. External hard drives are getting cheaper and cheaper (you can get over a terabyte of storage for less than I paid for my old whatever-gig drive) and they allow you to basically store everything you have on your laptop on something that will more than likely not be brought somewhere it will be damaged. Since I had run “Time Machine” on my Mac, I was able to go back to my last back up and put everything back on my laptop that I had lost (all right, I had been bad and not backed up for a few months, but I was able to get most of it back. And what I didn’t have on that hard drive…)
2. Flash drives
Though if I had been good and backed up my hard drive more frequently (or if I had a hard drive that backed up wirelessly like some of those fancy new external hard drives do) I likely wouldn’t have lost anything. But no, I have to go all the way upstairs and plug all these cords in for mine, so I am not quite as good about that as I should be. Luckily flash drives are pocket-sized and easy to carry around in your purse (or even around your wrist if you get this nifty flash drive bracelet the NaNoWriMo Stores sells) and so I’m much more likely to keep my computer and flash drive current with five million copies of different documents. Since flash drives are so much easier to lose (and generally can’t hold your entire computer’s system on them) I wouldn’t recommend only relying on a flash drive in case of a broken/missing/stolen computer, but it is always good to know I have generally recent copies of my stories with me in case something should happen and everything in my house become victims of a localized EMP one day while I’m out and about). Since flash drives are getting to be SO cheap, I actually have one large flash drive that stays at home as back up, and then a smaller one that stays in my purse (not counting the offending broken flash drive mentioned above).
Added bonus: Carrying a flash drive with me also means I’m able to work on any computer I happen to be near without having to save things/download anything onto that CPU.
3. Google Drive/Dropbox/Cloud Storage
As added security–and a way to protect yourself from losing your work even if you should lose your flash drive, have your computer break, and have your external hard drive fry on the same day–there are plenty of “cloud storage” programs you are able to upload your documents to for free these days. The two I am most familiar with happen to be Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) and Dropbox, but I’m sure there are plenty of others for those who don’t want to use either. Though there are limits on how much you can store for free on some, the good news is that Word Docs/other word processing files tend not to be very large, which means if you are using cloud storage mainly to protect your writing, you’re generally in good shape. If you have your work on some program for cloud storage, you are protected by whatever back ups the company has for their massive systems, which means you won’t lose your work for anything short of a catastrophic melt down in [insert town cloud storage tech giant is based in; probably in Nor Cal].
4. Email attachments
For those who don’t want to deal with taking the few minutes it might take to figure out a cloud storage system, you also have the option of emailing your work to yourself as an attachment. Should all your other back ups fail, you will then be able to find those emails and download the attachments that, again, will be protected by your email-providers servers rather than anything you have to take care of. The main downside of this method is that you will have to constantly send new drafts to yourself and wade through them if something happens rather than saving over them as you might in cloud storage (though it isn’t necessarily a bad idea to have old drafts of your work as well in case you change something and ever want to grab a deleted scene again).
Tip: If you don’t want to clutter up your personal email, make a dedicated email for your backed up work–a bulk of email accounts are free to make/maintain these days.
5. Other computers
Much like the idea of an external hard drive, if you have multiple computers in your home (a laptop and a desktop, for example), consider saving your work to both. Is it overkill if you have any or all of the above back up methods already?Perhaps. But can you ever really be too careful? No. Who knows, maybe Dropbox will be hacked, my laptop will die, my hard drive will have burned in a freak electrical fire, and my flash drives will be stolen all on the same day… (Hey, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t means it won’t happen… *shifty eyes* (ok, it probably won’t)).
Perhaps not as eco-friendly, but there’s still something to be said about having a paper copy of your work hanging around somewhere. Often times I like to write longhand for a first draft. While this means I go through pens and notebooks like no one’s business, it means I always at least have some record of what I have written in the event of a complete electronic apocalypse. Sure, I would have to type it all up once again, but at least I would have the basic stories there. The environmentalist in me still has a hard time printing out the hundreds of pages after I’ve finished typing things up, many people actually find it easier to edit when looking at a paper copy of their manuscript than while on a computer screen. If you print things out to edit, just keep them somewhere once you’re done. Even redlined, having a paper copy of your work is a good last resort should everything else disappear.