This will be my first post about “Process.” My friend Mary Wine, a talented romance author, made a comment on my Welcome post that got me thinking that this might make a very good subject to open the Process section of the blog.

“A backup drive is a must! It’s amazing how often I need to go back to a book or submission I thought was way past dead”

    And she is thoroughly RIGHT! Today’s technology makes it easier than it has ever been before for writers to keep track of all of their files; there is no excuse for not backing those files up, and regularly at that.

Why Back It Up? 

    Now I’m not a saint when it comes to backing up and I have experienced many of these situations myself, the most recent landed me in the situation I’m in now which I will relate later on in the post. First we must consider: “Why are back ups important?” I mean as writers we’re always moving forward, right? Don’t look back. Well that’s not true is it? We have to know where we’ve been to know where we’re going. You might think of a something that links to another story or character – one of my constant problems. But you can’t always memorize everything you’ve ever written and know what is current and what’s not. So sometimes backups are simply reference tools.

    Beyond that computer components die and you never know how that might affect your files. Files can become corrupt. Who hasn’t had their laptop battery die suddenly, or a crash/hang right as you’re saving? Which brings up a side point: Save Often! (the keyboard shortcut on a PC is ctrl+S and for a Mac comand+S). And the rule goes if you’re supposed to save often, you should backup almost as often. It’s recommended that you backup at least once a month for mild computer users. I found this formula for calculating how often to back up your data.

Take the amount you figure your time is worth to you, multiply it by the number of hours per week you use the computer, divided by 100 … example, if you estimate your time to be worth $20/hour and you spend 5 hours per week on your home computer, then a weekly data backup is about right … if you figure your time is worth $50/hour and spend 10 hours per week working on the computer, a nightly data backup is probably worth your time to schedule.”

The article went on to suggest that you should make an archived backup no less than every 5th backup  i.e. if you back up once a night (which if you write daily I would strongly suggest) you should make a weekly backup archive, as well as a monthly and yearly archived backup. If you only backup weekly you could lessen that to just monthly and yearly archiving.

    On the darker side; laptops/external drives/CD cases get stolen. And backed up files are also legally important. But we’ll cover that more in a later post about copyrights and your resources.

Back Up Options – Past to Present

    “But it’s so hard to backup.” you might be thinking. Not really. When I first started writing on a computer back in the 6th grade, it was tough to keep many files or simply “large” files for that matter on the Floppy Disks of the time that only held 1.44MB at the most! I can’t count how many files got corrupted (and how many of those files I’m still trying to clean up to this day) when a file would push that limit. Anything could upset those temperamental little extensions of the limited hard drives of the time. However, they did present with an easily visual organizational structure, color and labels made it easy to keep things in order no matter what your file names were. But if your files were large they had to remain on the hard drive, which meant if something happened to that hard drive you were screwed. And heaven forbid you ran out of disks and didn’t get a backup of a file. Not to mention how much space case after case of disks took up. (I still have 4 shoe boxes in storage of my original 10 stories.)

    Then came CD-RW. Dear lord the capacity! You could save and backup all kinds of files; .doc, .xml, .jpg (well a few image files lol) and they were easier to store and faster to save to, not to mention the ease of making copies of them. But hope you remembered to close out the disk when you were done. Otherwise, oops! Out of luck again. Still there was ease for sorting and keeping track of files with colored cases, disks and custom labels, you could even just write on them with a Sharpieâ„¢ if you wanted to save time and ink.

    But now there are USB flash (or Jump) drives, the size of your thumb. You can keep them anywhere, pockets, key rings, drawers – ranging from half a gigabyte (twice the size of my first hard drive) to 64GB and vary in price and style. There are even USB drive wristbands now, which groups like NaNoWriMo and Think Geek have been promoting on as of late. And that’s just one of your options for micro media. External drives the size of your wallet that also connect via USB come in a range of size and prices as well, up to 1TB allowing you to not only back up but TAKE your whole hard drive with you where ever you go and connect to whatever computer you’re at. And we’re only talking portable media – I won’t go into the backup drives and mass media storage devices you can set up. There really is no excuse now to back up ALL your files – even your old ones – on current media.

    There are still ways you can screw up your files; forget to Eject the drive before removing it, dropping it in liquid, loosing it. But with all the different ways you can backup your files, including remotely via online services and cloud services (though at the moment I would not personally endorse the cloud method as the security of said services have not yet been fully proven), there is no excuse not to have at least two copies of your work at all times.

***UPDATE as of 2013, Nov 22nd***

    I have with a modicum of confidence can suggest if you want to use a cloud service, use Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote or OneNote. The first two I can tell you allow you to save files of any kind (not just their own format) onto your password protected drive as well as provide a syncing service with a local folder on your computer so that all you have to do is save and make sure you have internet connection when you want to sync the local folder with the remote cloud folder. I’ve only recently started playing with Evernote and OneNote but personally know a number of professionals in various fields that have had great success with both of those services. For me Evernote allows me to sync my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and my computer, so the notes I make on the go can always be close at hand.

    Once again though organization becomes a question; file folder hierarchies, coded and/or numbered files names, etc. We will cover version control in another post at another time. There will be a guest consultant on that subject as I am new to the advanced processes and was just starting into them when the fiasco with my laptop happened.

And now …

Take the Time to Backup – A Cautionary Tale

    My current situation was caused by my laptop’s fan breaking. It all happened one afternoon as I went to turn on my laptop to backup my files; I heard a grinding, crackle-like sound. At the time I had been  compiling a copy of EVERY file I had of my writing (and other stuff) and was attempting to put them in some sort of current order to “clean out the clutter.”

    I thought about spending the four hours that it would take to fully copy all my files from the hard drive to my backup drive. But then the screen started flickering and the laptop began to heat up. I didn’t want to risk overheating the hard drive and potentially losing data. “How could getting the fan FIXED affect my files at all?” I figured. So instead we rushed my laptop to the Geek Squad where it was warrantied.

    A few days later after being assured that there should be no reason to touch my hard drive, I received a call from the company that handles the Geek Squad’s backup services. The hard drive had been damaged. They had no clue how since they only handled backup services. After a lot back and forth between myself, them and Geek Squad it came down to I could redo the prior two weeks of work – which had been unusually productive to the point I had been considering a nightly back up routine again instead of the once a month slack I’d slipped into – Or I could spend $150 (discounted from a $600+ estimate due to it being the Geek Squad’s fault) to get the hard drive copied over to an external drive. After weighing the “cost” of redoing all the work I’d done against the cost of copying the hard drive (which included the price of the 500GB Passport drive which I was planning to buy anyway) it was MUCH cheaper to get the backup. But if I had already had a current backup I would have saved that money in the first place. It wouldn’t have boiled down to more than a simple monetary problem if it wasn’t for the fact that when they got the external drive the Geek Squad took the liberty to try to copy my files from the drive to my laptop. They wound up making dozens of copies of my files and somehow got it all mixed up, turning approximately 163GB of data into 20GBs shy of 500GBs! Now I have more clutter than ever with at minimum a dozen copies of each file with no way of easily knowing what is corrupted, what’s not and what’s just a duplicate. (That too will be a subject for another post; file comparison tools.)

    So almost 8 months later I’m still trying to sort out their mess just in my Documents folder, I haven’t even touched my Music or Picture files. Moral of the story – Don’t Wait to Backup, the time you spend backing up is much cheaper than the time you’ll spend cleaning up the mess. I’ve spent approximately 1152 hours over the last 32 weeks cleaning up this mess; at rate equal to my average hourly rate I’ve cost myself approximately $25,344 simply for not backing up my files on a regular basis.

    I now am using two external drives; a Western Digital 500GB My Passport drive as my main drive, and a 350GB Toshiba external drive as a backup drive for all of my work. My goal is to once everything is organized have copies of each story’s files on JumpDrives filed with hard copies as yet an extra backup. But we’re not quite there yet.

    Thank you for taking the time to read, I hope it was informative.


** UPDATE **   05/11/12

    Today I completed the comparison portion of the clean up. Over 1350 hours during 44 weeks, personal cost totaling nearly $30,000. This doesn’t even cover the restructuring that is going to commence, nor the Music, Images, and Video files. It behooves me to once again stress the importance of Backing up, regularly.