Okay, I know at least two people who’ve recently lost all their work due to assorted types of shenanigans.  So I’m reblogging this: how to back up your data.


A bunch of you folks are creators too—of art, writing, videos, music, photography—and I want you guys to know how to protect yourselves from this kind of data loss.

So here’s the skinny on the major options and things to be aware of when it comes to backing up your data.

You probably know that you’re supposed to periodically back up your files to either an external drive and/or DVDs.  Preferably both.  Ideally, for purposes of disaster recovery (fire, flood, earthquake), you should keep a copy of your files off-site, at a friend’s house or a deposit box or something.

If you’re manually backing up your stuff—i.e. plugging in a storage device and dragging the files over to it—knock that shit off.  Manual backups are a hassle and most of us don’t do them often enough, and these days there’s software that can automate the backup process.  You can set up an external backup drive to automatically copy your data every Sunday, for example. One free and easy-to-use option is Automatic Backup Pro, but there are many others out there.  Norton Ghost, Macrium Reflect and Acronis Backup and Recovery are three popular retail options that I’ve used and liked.

On storage devices: what a lot of people don’t know is that different storage media have different lifespans.  There are different kinds of hard drives, for example, and some are more reliable than others (Solid State Drives fare better than your typical HDD).  External hard drives tend to have a shorter lifespan than internal hard drives, because the way they’re used puts more wear and tear on them.  
CDs and DVDs also have vastly different lifespans depending on the quality of the disc and how they’re stored.  (They can last up to 10 years, if stored in a cool, dry, dark place; a more typical lifespan seems to be around 5 years.)

One drive as backup is about 1000% better than nothing, but it always leaves you open to the sort of thing that happened to dee (it’s rare, but she’s not the only person I know who it’s happened to).  For more reliability, you could buy multiple backup drives and set up a RAID array—a software/hard drive configuration that automatically backs up your data in multiple locations so that if one drive goes, you have another copy.  For more about RAID arrays, you can Google it, but if you’re unfamiliar with the term and you think you want one, you may be best served to ask a friend who knows more about computers for help.

You can also get software that creates virtual copies of your disk drive, also known as an image.  An image is a compressed file that contains some or all the data on your drive (most imaging programs let you decide what you want included in the image).  If your drive goes kaput, then you can pull out the image and restore it.  It’s a lot easier to create one of these and then store it on backup media than to copy all your files individually.  Paragon’s Backup & Recovery free version has minimal features, but it’s a solid product.

Pro tip: this is also really fantastic to have in case of viruses or bad software installations.  If you ever have to wipe your computer, then you can fire up the image and you’re back up and running within an hour without having to re-install all your programs and crap.

Another option is online storage and backup services.  These provide you with storage space and data backup in the cloud so that if something happens, you can just download your files again.  Lots of options now exist, with different features and price points.  Dropbox is an increasingly famous one, and if what you want to protect is mostly writing or small images, it can single-handedly serve all your backup needs.

Most of these services include a little app that you install on your computer that you can set up to have your data automatically copied and backed up.  Online storage services also tend to keep historical copies of your files for a certain time, so that if a file gets corrupted, you can go in and retrieve an earlier version.  (This has saved me at least three times.)

In many cases, these services also allow you to access them through a web-based portal, so you can reach them from any computer, anytime you want.  In the case of Dropbox, it also allows you to establish folder-sharing with friends or collaborators, along with syncing between multiple devices if you have, say, a desktop, a laptop and a smart phone, and many other features.

Dropbox gives you 2 gigs for free (enough to stow all your writing, unless you are an unbelievably prolific motherfucker), and offers larger packages for pay.  Other good services include Carbonite, LiveDrive, and Mozy.  Amazon’s got their Amazon S3 service, but I find the pricing on that to be rather steep for personal use.  Carbonite is particularly affordable.

I strongly advocate starting by at least installing Dropbox.  It’s very simple to use and gives you security on at least some files of your choosing.  It operates as a folder on your computer, in which you can store things just like normal, but anything you put in there also gets backed up to their online service.  I keep all my writing and anything I’m actively working on in there, so that if I have a failure or a file corruption, I can go into Dropbox and pull a copy back out.

For writers especially, the thing to do is install Dropbox.  It’s a lightweight, free app that lives on your computer, and it plugs into a folder of your choice.  Then, whenever you add or update a file in that folder, Dropbox automatically updates the online copy.

And it has versioning.  This means, if you save over the wrong file, you can go into Dropbox online and retrieve the old copy of the one you accidentally copied over.  If you delete a file, or a file gets corrupted, you can go in and retrieve the previous copy!  Dropbox saves every version of the file from the past month.  If your computer crashes?  Everything from that folder is still backed up online, so you can reinstall the Dropbox app and retrieve your entire folder once you get your computer back up and running.

By default, you get 2 gigs of files you can hold and keep updated in the folder you choose.  You can also expand that amount of space through various means, like referring other users to Dropbox.

Dropbox is good for artists, too, but 2 gigs doesn’t stretch as far with big art files as it does with document files.

You can also sync files between multiple devices, including other computers and even your cell phone, and you can access everything backed up from your computer via the Dropbox.com website as well, if you don’t have the app installed.

I keep my wips folder in my Dropbox folder and work directly out of it.  I also back up copies periodically to other locations, because even Dropbox can fuck up, but I don’t even know how many times it’s had my back now.

One caveat: if you use Scrivener, Scrivener’s auto-save function does not play well with Dropbox’s auto-backup function.  There are technical reasons for this, but it boils down to them sometimes tripping over each other.  So in this case, it’s better to keep your Scrivener files in a different folder on your computer and, each time you get done working with your Scrivener document, copy it over into your Dropbox folder.

The above may or may not go for other programs that use auto-backup too, so it’s something to keep an eye on.

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