The Importance of Backups

After the first time I lost 50,000 words worth of work on a novel, one might think that I would have learned my lesson about making certain that I had appropriately backed up my files.

I did research.  I discovered Dropbox, which provides free storage and syncs files between computers if you have it loaded on more than one.  Fabulous!  I made the transition to using Dropbox and was quite happy with the results.

Then, almost exactly one year after losing those original 50k words, I found the flash drive they had been stored on in the lining of my coat, where it had fallen through a hole in the pocket.  Victory!  My words were again mine!  Surely I had now recovered from this failure of backing up, and everything would be better from this point out.

A few National Novel Writing Months later, (they come up every November), I again wrote 50k words on a novel.  I had a Scrivener file with details on characters.  An Excel spreadsheet with locations, and who was where when.  I was quite pleased with what I had written so far.

You may notice a pattern here.  I tend to reach the 50k minimum during November, then stop for a while to let my brain digest what I’ve written and figure out to do going forward.  I followed this same pattern.  Took time out to work on ebook covers for stories I wanted to indie publish.  This process went well, but it did use a lot of storage.  A lot more than I noticed at the time.

Later, I went back to continue work on the second novel.  It was gone.  Not just the document, but its entire file with all of the supporting data was missing from my Dropbox.  Looking through the history in the Dropbox page, I discovered there were actually several things missing.  I was able to recover all of it.  All except my poor novel.

I believe that what happened is that all the image files I was working with for the book covers overwhelmed my allowed space for my free Dropbox subscription and it started dropping things that had been there previously to make room.  Unfortunately, I received no notification of this, and I did not notice until it was too late and my novel was gone, gone, gone.

I am still mourning my lost novel, though this occurred more than a year ago.  I have a particularly bad memory.  I don’t remember all the details.  I can’t just redo it.  I am trying to note what bits I do recall, but in the meantime, I am learning yet more lessons about backup.

  • Lesson Number One:  Back up in more than one place!  If I had emailed the story to myself, I would still have it.  If I had saved it anywhere other than the Dropbox, those words would still be mine.
  • Lesson Number Two:  If you are using Dropbox, and probably any other free online storage, be very aware of your memory allotment, and how much of it is being used.  Do not overload.  You do not know what will become of what was there.

I’ve taken to saving a copy of my entire Dropbox file onto a very large external hard drive every week.  These are fresh saves each time, so that if something vanishes, I should have an older version still hanging around.

Don’t be like me.  Do not lose your work.  It’s painful.  So painful, I’ve spent a good deal of time unable to even think about that lost novel, and I, who have always been shy of committing acts of novelization, find it even more difficult to to consider doing so again.  My track record is terrible.  I’m not sure I can handle losing that much work for a third time.  My plan is never to have to.

Does anybody have recommendations of backup methods that work for them?  I’m curious to hear them.

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