This Advice Will Save Your Book: Back Up Your Work Twice!

Would you like to see the most re-tweeted tweet I’ve ever sent out into the universe? I got a pretty good response to some of my copy edits humour, but this one blew it out of the water. Here she is:

FIFTY re-tweets. From authors, editors, agents and publishers. Clearly, you all feel my pain.

I’m usually very careful about backing up my work–I’m old-fashioned, so I save it to my laptop, a USB and email it to myself at the end of each session. But recently I was on the road, and had no internet access, so I didn’t email it to myself. Then, when I got home, my USB died. Left with only one option, I bolted for the laptop I had been using on my trip, trying to ignore the way my heart was thumping.

The laptop had the old version of the book on it. I must have forgotten to save it to the laptop, and only saved it to the USB. I knew immediately–the way you always do when you lose work–that I could never, not ever, rewrite those chapters to be as good as they were. The dialogue would never be as witty, the description never as sparkling, the action never as immediate, the pacing never as perfect. You know the drill.

And then, just as I was trying to decide whether I could face the pain of revisiting all that work, salvation! Now, don’t laugh at me, please… I remembered which laptop I took on my trip. And it wasn’t the one I was checking. Crisis averted.

The sheer level of response on Twitter got me thinking, though–I’m clearly not the only one who’s lost work, or come close. So today, a quick list of options for backing up your work (and please note that I’m not endorsing any particular system):

  1. Email the file to yourself.
  2. Save it to USB.
  3. — I have friends who swear by this system, which you can schedule to back up your computer at the same time each day.
  4. Dropbox — Like Mozy, it backs up your work offsite (does anyone else imagine “the cloud” looking like it’s made of all the words from our books?) and it works across multiple platforms.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’d invite you to add your favourite options in the comments. Personally, I’d recommend making sure that if you back up to a cloud or offsite server, you also back up to a USB so you’ve always got a copy, but I’m no expert!

Here’s my challenge for you, though: don’t read this post and think ‘She’s right, that would suck!‘. If you don’t have a back up plan in operation, then make one now.


You can thank me tomorrow.

19 Responses to This Advice Will Save Your Book: Back Up Your Work Twice!

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Dec 10 2012 at 7:02 am #

    I wrote my very first novel without a backup. Started it on a typewriter, moved to a computer when my SIL started taking classes and completed it there.
    Her computer died. No backup, not even a printout.
    A few years later I acquired another typewriter and decided to try again, using my old typewritten pages. I opened the book they were in and was appalled at how bad they were. I wrote my first novel a second time, only much better the second time around. Sometimes losing a book is a good thing.
    I did start backing up from that moment forth. I keep my working copy on my stick, which I copy over to both of my home computers. I don’t use the email method, though.

  2. jeffo Dec 10 2012 at 7:55 am #

    I’ve had a couple of moments of panic myself. This fall we’ve had several power failures; at least one instance caused me to lose a pretty substantial set of changes. I changed my settings so Word will automatically save every five minutes, and I’ve got my USB, but I confess I don’t use it as much as I should. The cloud makes me a little nervous – I guess I have some strange fear it will rain on someone else, hah hah. At the very least I should be e-mailing myself every day.

    Great advice and thanks for putting this back on my mind.

  3. Julie Eshbaugh Dec 10 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Great post Amie! I use a service called Carbonite. It backs up all my files automatically, and if I have a computer crash or other disaster, it restores EVERYTHING! (I used it a few months ago when my laptop died a horrible death. When I got my laptop back, the Carbonite restoration gave me back the exact machine I had had before – all the files in all the right folders. Well worth the $55 a year I pay for it. :D)

  4. Marie Lu Dec 10 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    Oh God, this post totally gave me an eye twitch and I am rushing off to back up everything *again*. Such fantastic advice, Amie!

  5. Sooz Dec 10 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    Yes, yes, YES. Backing up is so important. I have told my lost 150 pages story a bazillion times, so I won’t repeat. But…after the soul-crushing that happened with that loss, I became an OBSESSIVE backer-upper. I backup every time I step away from my computer (I use Dropbox; it’s SO easy). It has just become habit for me at this point…

    Great post, Amie! <3

  6. Chihuahua Zero Dec 10 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    I need to dust my Dropbox and start using it again.

  7. JQ Trotter Dec 10 2012 at 7:26 pm #

    I use a cloud (because I have Mac products) and Crash Plan, so I have a physical backup (the cloud) and one on the internet (Crash Plan) just in case. I’ve had one of those heart-attack moments where I thought I lost files… and times when I have actually lost chapters. It’s so disheartening when that happens. I’m glad you were able to find your backups!

    • Caitlin Vanasse Dec 12 2012 at 7:53 pm #

      Yes! I really like CrashPlan too. CrashPlan is a whole computer back-up system (like Carbonite) but you can use their program to back up to a hard drive or another computer for free. (If I remember correctly you only pay for the actual online cloud back-up.) And it’s used and endorsed by Neil Gaiman, which makes me smile. (

      Full disclosure, my brother works for Code 42, the company that makes CrashPlan but I would probably use it anyway because it plays really really well with my Macbook.

  8. Christine Edwards Dec 11 2012 at 7:42 am #

    It’s so funny that I got this post today. Last week as I was walking out the door to work my fire alarm went off. After combing my house in search of hot spots and finding nothing, I set off to work again. My theory, the batteries in my alarm died. My house is still standing so I must have been right. However, it occurred to me, then and there, that my two USB back-ups, my time machine, and my computer were all in the same location. That is not good. I took my laptop to work that day even though I didn’t need it.

    My solution came to me on the way to work. I’m going to make another USB copy of all my work and give it to a trusted friend from my critique group. I’m going to suggest that she do the same with me so that we have one satellite location to recover work from.

  9. Kisa Whipkey Dec 11 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    I use Google Docs (or is it called Drive now?) for projects I’m currently working on. It’s similar to Dropbox in that it automatically updates across multiple platforms and saves off-site. But the advantage is that you can work on the file directly from it, rather than having to download it and open in a different program. Super convenient as long as you have internet access. 🙂

    Otherwise, I’m like you. I save to about 42 different places, mobile and otherwise. Which sometimes ends up with about as many different versions as there are locations. Maybe I need a better system of organization.

  10. Julie Dec 11 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    Signed up for Dropbox! I have it on my iPad, too. My computer crashed several months ago and I had to get a new one. Fortunately, most of my docs and pics I put on a USB prior to the crash! But ever since then…I’m like everyone else — back up your stuff. I’m thinking of signing up for Carbonite or Mozy. The Google Docs is an interesting idea too.

    The other day, I was watching one of my favorite Korean dramas — The King of Dramas. It’s about a producer and a screenwriter who are working together to create successful K-drama. In one of the episodes, the screenwriter is accused of plagiarism — taking her script concept from a book. But she says her story is original and she created it two years prior to the book’s release. The producer tells her to find copies of her work to prove that. She knows she’s stored it somewhere, but she can’t find it! Fortunately, she does. Her mother asks her how much the floppy drive her script is on is worth. The MC says: “priceless.” The producer tells her: “Don’t be so disorganized in the future. Get your stuff copyrighted, take good care of your files, and save backups.” Good advice!

  11. Alexa Y. Dec 12 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    YES! I believe everyone should have multiple backups of their writing. I lost one (really well-written) scene during NaNo, and even that was enough to make me want to cry :p

  12. Claire M. Caterer Dec 25 2012 at 11:56 am #

    I back up nightly to an external hard drive, but as noted above, suppose there’s a house fire? I’m going with cloud storage as well. It’s the nightmare we all live with. Who has read Little Women and not wept when Amy threw Jo’s one and only copy of her ms. into the fireplace? It could happen to any of us!

  13. Steve Jan 7 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    Spideroak offers 2GBs of free backup. It supports versioning. I’ve used their paid service for several yesrs. Saved me s couple of times.

  14. Lea Postell Apr 30 2013 at 12:12 am #

    Data backup online is not too hard. My computer documents are all encrypted at There cloud is the fastest and also free.

  15. Karen Aug 22 2015 at 11:46 am #

    Yes to all of the above. I use Scrivener and have it set up so that each session automatically saves to Dropbox. Plus I do a weekly backup of all my files to the cloud via my Norton security package. Then I convert my Scrivener stuff to Word and save it to USB. I also periodically keep an updated USB copy in my safe deposit box at the bank. This way I have multiple formats in multiple locations. Haven’t lost a thing yet, knock on wood!

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