Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Backup Everything. Yes, Even That.

Stop what you’re doing and go back up your computer. Do it now. I’ll wait.

Done? Cool. Moving on.

It’s happened to most if not all of us at one time or another. Life is hitting you from multiple directions, you’re cranking on your latest writing project while simultaneously dealing with other work and/or family matters. You start to let little, seemingly innocuous things slide or at least take a lower position in the Hierarchy of Importance with respect to your To Do List. You probably even think to yourself, “I’ll get everything back on track once I get past ______.”

And then, technology betrays you.

Such was the case this past Saturday. I’d been working on the current novel project pretty steadily over the previous few days, all while dealing with the usual early-month demands of my day job, family activities and commitments, and the added stress of trying to sell our house while searching for a new place to call home. Friday was a particularly crazy day, with several of those demands all converging to make things even more “interesting” for me, but I still managed to crank out some words for the novel. However, with everything else going on, I forgot to do One. Simple. Thing.

I didn’t make my daily backup of the work in progress. You know what happens next, right? For those of you who rigorously, unfailingly back up your data every day, this is the part of the post where you smile, shake your heads, and mutter, “Hmph. Kids these days.”

Saturday: My laptop dies. The hard drive is corrupted, and there was no saving it. Everything I had on there? Gone.

The good news? My full-blown monthly backup of my entire hard drive and my daily backups of things in-progress saw to it that I’d only lost whatever work I’d accomplished on Friday. The progress I’d made on the novel could be recreated without too much fuss, but it cost me valuable forward momentum. Still, my deadline for manuscript delivery is such that I can make up the lost time, somewhere. Just about everything else either was stored on a network drive, or else I’d already sent it to someone else, and so could retrieve a copy that way.

I was more irritated with the loss of time than anything else, not just with having to rewrite those bits of the novel I’d lost but now the time I’d spend re-imaging and restoring my laptop’s hard drive. The latter likely was unavoidable, but the former could have been further mitigated if not eliminated if I’d just held to carrying out my one simple rule when it comes to in-process files: Back them up. Every day.

My backup imperative came about because of a much more devastating loss of data that occurred several years ago. On that occasion, I ended up losing weeks of work on multiple projects, one of which was another novel with a looming deadline. I’d been doing frequent though not daily backups then, but with time crunches and everything else, I’d gotten complacent about “the little things” and paid a heavy price for that attitude. I learned my lesson, and with that came the Daily Backup Rule.

Saturday showed me that the lesson needed refreshing.

So, if you do back ups but maybe not every day, or perhaps once or twice a week, here’s a suggestion to reevaluate your process. Some people like to use external hard disc drives, or stacks of CDs or DVDs. Newer remote alternatives include Google Drive and iCloud, where you can upload your files and other content to a hosted space. To be honest, those approaches leave me a bit leery, as I have a hard time trusting third parties when it comes to storing anything I might consider “sensitive material,” such as the manuscript for a project where I’ve signed non-disclosure or other confidentiality agreements. For day-to-day archiving, my personal preference is to use flash drives. They’re small, and usually able to hold everything pertaining to a work in-progress. In my case, I have my manuscript, notes, and soft copies of any pertinent reference materials, all in my pocket.

All right, then: Somebody out there has to have their own backup horror stories to share. Give ‘em up!


Charles Gramlich said...

I pretty much copy anything I'm working on to a stick every day. And the older files are backed up via a external harddrive and two separate computers.

G. B. Miller said...

No personal horror stories to speak of. What little fresh work I do, I save it on the hard drive, the floppy drive it was created on, the flash drive to the old computer that it was written on and a copy to my other flash drive on my other computer.

Anonymous said...

There's a simple technique to avoid forgetting to back things up: automation. The computer can take the tedium away by doing what it does well – repetitive jobs. You can script you backups and then use scheduled tasks to run them.

If you're worried about third-party snooping, as am I, then you can protect yourself against them. Wrap up your backups into a password-protected zip file, before transmitting the data to the cloud. This too can be automated. It's how I operate my backups regime.

Finally, it's worth testing your backups to make sure you can restore when necessary. You wouldn't want to find that your backups didn't work (or contained the wrong data) after the disaster, would you.

For further reading on this subject, you can view this article on my web site.

Anonymous said...

I use automation for full backups, but for daily stuff I tend to "backup as I go," copying stuff off to a memory stick or whatever once I'm done working on it for the day. As I said in the article, it was just a slip-up in my routine, but it was just enough for the gremlims to sneak in and wreak a little havoc.

Jewel Amethyst said...

It always get you the one day you didn't back up. Good thing you were doing it all the time.

Unknown said...

This has happened to me so often that I'm anal about it. I use dropbox, which I really like, so that I have some kind of copy, and I keep a copy on my machine in a non-Internet file.

One A Day Tech said...

Use google drive!!! The main thing is to follow the golden rule of "Baking up" you don't have a backup until there is 2 reliable copies of your files. Nice blog BTW Following!

Liane Spicer said...

I have my share of horror stories, but I always had files backed up to at least a week or two before the gremlins struck.

Toward the end of last year I had no laptop, was using a tablet then a borrowed Mac, and finally replaced my laptop in December. Everything I've been saving in various boxes, clouds and sticks seems to be in place...except the first half of a short story that I need to complete right about now. Can't find it anywhere--not even backed up to emails which I was doing regularly back then. I know I saved it somewhere, but those gremlins...

Unknown said...
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