A few weeks ago, I had the mis-fortune to have both my laptop and a portable flash drive which I used to store much of my word die on me in quick succession. While I managed to recover all the files I needed from the laptop, those in the flash drive have proved unrecoverable. This has raised in my mind, once again, the importance of backing up my writing in a secure and sensible manner. I have to say, this is something which I am terrible at remembering to do and I don’t do it nearly as often as I should. However, it’s also something I realise is exceedingly important to do and it’s something every writer should give some though to. This is because there’s a plethora of options, some of which are better than others (and the best option might not be the one you’d think!). So here’s a quick run through a few of the currently-available back up options with some thoughts on the pros and cons for writers of each one.
Firstly, there’s those little flash drives which you plug into the USB port of your computer which are almost everywhere these days. They are cheap and easy to use, and it’s tempting to use one of these as your back up. However, any possible benefits are out-weighed by the fact that they are remarkably unstable, prone to failing suddenly and without warning, and very easy to mis-place. This makes them a very poor option for storing you back up files and it’s not an option you should rely on as your sole approach for backing up your writing.
Secondly, while external hard drives also plug into a USB port and may seem like larger versions of a flash drive, they save information in a very different way and provide a much better option for longer term and reliable storage. They are also quick and easy to use, making creating a back up of your work at the end of the day very fast and simple. The main issue with using an external hard drive to back up your files is not the device itself but where you keep it. A friend of mine recently had someone break into her house and steal her laptop. They also nicked the external hard drive she was using to back up her files because she kept it sitting next to her computer so it was always close at hand. The lesson here is that if you’re going go down this route for backing up your work, you can’t simply leave the external hard drive sitting on your desk beside your computer.
Thirdly, there’s the good old-fashioned CD-ROM, or the newer DVD-ROMs. It’s quick and easy to burn your files onto a disk, but they can be difficult to update. This means they are better suited for creating archived versions of finished pieces than backing up things you’re actively working on. In addition, while they are pretty stable in the short-term, they can degrade over a number of years, meaning they are not great long-term storage devices. There is also the issue of where you keep them. It’s simple enough to slip them into a bottom drawer and forget about them, but what would happen if there was a fire? Your back up files would simply go up in flames with your computer and all your work would be lost.
This brings us to the next option: backing up your data on a remote server. This is known as ‘cloud computing’. The idea here is that some company, either for free or for a small fee, allows you to store a copy of your files on one of their servers. This is often quick and easy to do through custom-designed apps, and for many it seems like a perfect option for storing copies of your work. Certainly this avoids all the potential pit falls associated with keeping a back up in your own home, but it does come with others which are often not very obvious. The first of these is that the company running the serve you use could, out of the blue, decide you are violating their terms and conditions and close your account. They have every right to do this (it’s right there in the user agreement that you ticked, without reading, when you signed up) and you’ll have little chance of getting your files back if the do so. Similar things can happen if the company suddenly decides to stop offering the service or goes bust.
Cloud computing accounts are also subject the same risks as any other computing system and this means they can get hacked, become infected with viruses and so on. This means you have to be careful with passwords and other information you need to access them. The problem with this is that you also need to remember all this information and there is nothing more frustrating that needing to access the files in an account only to not be able to remember the log on details you need to do so. There’s also the question of what the service providers can do with files you store in the cloud. If you read through the terms and conditions in full you’ll often find some pretty scary rules about what they can do with your files and their contents without asking. Finally, in order to access your files, you need internet access and you may find the one day you really need to get a hold of your files is the one day that the net is, for some inexplicable reason, down and you are stuck with no way of accessing them. These options make the cloud a rather poor option for creating useful and secure back ups of your work.
The last option I’m going to consider probably the oldest: printing your work out in black and white and stuffing it into a filing cabinet. It’s old school and you can’t easily update it, but you can access it any time, even when the power’s down, and it does provide a permanent record of your writing. This means you’ll never find you can’t access your work just because the software package has been updated and the file format you used is no longer available or the type of disk you used is no longer read by any available disk drive (I still have old 3.5 inch diskettes floating around in the backs of various cupboards and no floppy disk drive to access the files they contain!).
So these are a few of the options available to writers for backing up their work, but which is best? Well, personally, while I might use cloud computing and flash drives because they are convenient, I recognise their limitations and do not rely on them a my sole back up option. Instead, they are only one of several I use. This means I also back everything up onto an external hard drive (not kept next to my computer) and when I finish pieces, I’ll burn a copy onto a couple of CD-ROMs, one of which will be kept in my house, while the other goes to a friend’s house for safe keeping. I also like to keep a paper copy of any final works tucked away somewhere as last resort. This means that while I might not back things up as often as I should, when do, I do it in away that hopefully minimises the possibility that I’ll lose the work I’ve back up, and this is something I’d recommend to ever writer.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.