The Importance of Earnestly Backing up your Writing

I would like to think that in the contemporary age we humans understand that Skynet isn’t real, and most machines do not think for themselves. They ain’t that smart. (Some are getting there, but I hope that their data is stored in the Cloud because if they get nuked, torched, whacked, crushed, or blow-torched, all is lost if there isn’t a safety net of some sort waiting to catch the fallout.)

Ladies, gentlemen, and little monsters, I would like to present to you the first post in a series of practical advices for others shackled to the craft of writing. This series, I should forewarn you, does not apply to those individuals who insist on writing their work out by hand, or using a typewriter — either of which is an admirable endeavour, and I’d love to hear about your process if you’re using analog tools to write. (And send me pics, because that’s awesome.)[pullquote align=”left”]I advocate a few Best Practices resulting from a career in graphic and web design, where your product is your work, and if you lose your work, you can bet you won’t get paid, and you will be crying a lot. I speak from experience.[/pullquote]

These posts are directed to MacHeads (or wannabe MacHeads) and others using computers or iOS devices. (That’s what I use. That’s what I can nerd about.)

I advocate a few Best Practices resulting from a career in graphic and web design, where your product is your work, and if you lose your work, you can bet you won’t get paid, and you will be crying a lot. I speak from experience.

Last fall my three terabyte harddrive that I use for backups for work, freelancing projects, music, movies, and writing fried to a crisp. The disc inside where all the data was stored experienced a hardware malfunction resulting from being plugged in to an incompatible USB (my bad; oopsie) and it went kablooey.

I’m being literal. I could hear the thing screaming as it died. Screaming and cursing me.

“I don’t hear the disc spinning!” I told our tech support guy at the office. (He’s a photographer and uses a RAID system to backup his stuff: a RAID system — picture this — is a little box with four or five different hard disks inside that automates a backup of whatever you’ve got on your computer. Each disk mirrors the contents of the other. If one drive blows, you have four more with your data on it to back you up. It’s safe. It’s smart. It’s totally out of my budget.)

I fried the fucker like it was KFC.

Bok bok bok all the damn way down.

This was right around the time of NaNoWriMo, and I was forty thousand words deep into a story I was calling The Requiem (which would later be cannibalized and turned into Wake the Dead, my novel-demon-baby-thing of the present day. That was back when Eden was named Elspeth and I hadn’t yet read Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. Too close, man. Too close. See this post if you want a better idea of why that’s too close.)

I had NaNoWriMo sponsors in the office, and a lot of my complaining over the corpse of my harddrive inspired concerned questions like, “But what about your novel?” with wide eyes full of fear. “Do you have a copy somewhere else?” Or, “Are you okay?”

The answer is always, “No.”

The data was irretrievable.

Fortunately, I’d made a clever blunder with regards to my design work, and set up a back up folder deep in my computer (which I’d totally forgotten about, of course.) Foresight and smaller file sizes allowed for my writing to occupy two separate homes:

The external hard drive, and…

Dropbox: A cloud-based storage solution that links to Scrivener. Scrivener is a smart little application in many ways, but to address my primary freak-out: it packs up your manuscript on-close and sends a zip of the draft with all chapters and scene breaks in tact… to Dropbox. Dropbox files are stored off your harddrive, so if your hardware goes kablooey, your work is safe.

*cue singing angels*

The whole story was backed up and I didn’t even have to lift a finger other than to set up Scrivener and click a button linking it to my Dropbox account.

To set this up yourself is really super simple. Install Dropbox on your computer following the instructions from their website (they do have a free option to start with, so you can try it out without committing to buying extra space), load Scrivener, and go to Scrivener Preferences in the menu bar. The last option in the Preference window is Backup, like you see below:


Backing Up to Dropbox in Scrivener

Backing Up to Dropbox in Scrivener


  1. Click the ticky for Turn on Automatic Backups
  2. Click the tickies for Back up on Project Close and Back up on each manual save
  3. Make sure Compress automatic backups as zip files is checked. You don’t care that they are slower. Dropbox doesn’t understand what a .scriv file is when Scrivener produces one, so the manuscript needs to be packed up as a .zip archive.
  4. Make sure that the Backup Location points to the Dropbox folder on your computer. (It should look something like what I’ve got: /Users/yourusername/Dropbox/) I created a folder for my backups called Scrivener because I like keeping things tidy.
  5. You’re done! Celebrate with cupcakes!

Of course, if you don’t use Scrivener you shouldn’t feel limited. Dropbox can take just about any type of file you throw at it. Write in Pages? Cool. Chuck it into your Dropbox folder manually. Microsoft Word? No problem! It takes that too. The beauty of Scrivener is that the backup process is automated so you don’t even have to think about it. You don’t need to foresee catastrophe to be prepared for it.

Just be prepared.

No one wants to stick a plug in the wrong place and fry their drive. Save the frying for chicken (and keep your stories safe.)

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