Backing up your writing

You need to back up your writing! That is the most important advice I can give you (since I can't write actual prose to save my life). If you don't, you will regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life…

Jon Bjarnason

Backing up your writing

You need to back up your writing! That is the most important advice I can give you (since I can't write actual prose to save my life). If you don't, you will regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life (I couldn't be bothered to read this blog about copyright).

With today's technology and internet availability, the complexity in backing up all your writing and all your other important documents has just vanihsed and the process has become absolutely trivial with no technical expertise required. If you lose your masterpiece to a broken hard drive or theft you have only yourself to blame.

Times change. Thirty years ago my family used to spend the summer vacation driving around the bumpy dirt roads of Iceland with us three kids sitting in the backseat with no seat-belt and the windows shut while our parents sat in the front seats chain smoking. Back then it was fine. Today you would get arrested.

Ten years ago your backup was (maybe) a 3.5inch diskette hidden in your jewelry box. Today keeping your electronic backup inside your house is just ridiculous. In my opinion your backup shouldn't only protect you from hard disk failure in your computer (although these are by far the most frequent), but also burglaries, fires and (in the case of Iceland) catastrophic earthquakes that sink the entire country beneath the waves. Especially since it doesn't add complexity to make your data 100% safe under all circumstances.

The results of the poll

I was reading over the results of the latest CC poll which asked "How do you back-up your writing?" . What struck me as bizzare is that in this day and age a whopping 9% (at the time of writing) of responders said they don't back up their writing at all! These are people who are using CC, which is an online service so you do have access to the internet! surprise

18% of responders email themselves the story or upload it to CC for safekeeping which is quite a bit better, and the rest, three quarters of the writing population of the world (I'm assuming that people that reply to the CC poll represent a perfect subset of the world's population, sounds about right?) use an actual online backup solution.

Thinking about it, this is actually pretty good. Three quarters of the responses use some sort of actual backup for their work and I'm sure only a couple of years ago the picture would have been completely reversed. The poll is a little confusing as it muddles technologies together (Dropbox belongs in the third answer and an automatic computer backup is very different from an external hard drive, etc). We can however see that only 45% of the responders are using a dedicated online backup solution.

I have three words for those of you in the 55% camp: Get Dropbox now! <- shameless referral link

This service (and others like it) is free, available for Mac and PC and is so drop-dead simple that there's no reason not to use it. You just spend a few minutes installing the thing and then you just save your file to your hard drive like you normally do and don't need to worry about your work ever again. Dropbox automatically uploads your file to the dropbox cloud and you will never ever lose it! It even has built in versioning so that if you make some change that you want to revert, it's easy to do.

Being able to access your files from a web browser or from other computers and devices that you have is icing on top, but just having backup taken care of without needing to click any buttons or send emails or take your usb stick to your parent's house or doing any kind of manual work at all is what it's all about. It works seamlessly between different technologies and is ever so simple to use. You literally spend a few minutes once and never have to worry again or even know that it's there.

CC Uses Dropbox

The entire Critique Circle codebase is stored in a Dropbox, as is all my scribbling, important documents and programs that I can't live without. Since CC is pretty big I needed to buy an upgrade and have a 100GB dropbox for which I pay an annual fee, but the free one is quite enough for all my 'normal' documents.

I develop the website mostly by editing files on my local computer in Iceland (whichever of my 5 computers that I happen to be working on), in my folder (or, depending on the size of the change). As soon as I save the file it is automatically synced by dropbox to the web server in a couple of seconds and the change is live. This is an extremely convenient way to make small changes or bug fixes which doesn't require me to do any publishing or install any software on my computer besides dropbox.

Having a file save cause a publish to the live website sounds pretty mad, but I've gotten away with it so far, and I know the codebase pretty well so it's usually fine for the small or contained changes that I typically make. I'm not sure I would necessarily recommend this approach for any professional web developers out there but it's great if you just have a small private website at least. wink

Now, I don't back up my family videos on Dropbox because there's not enough space. I have around 250GB of photos and videos and only 100GB of space on the dropbox. What I personally do is that I have a nightly job which transfers all new media from my hard drive to a server in US for safe keeping. This is good for me, but for you there might be another solution. I won't get into that right now, but I think it's a good idea to use different backup solutions for your small content than your huge content. If your photo collection fits into a solution like Dropbox then it's perfect, and there's no reason to look further.

"I lost my story when I got logged out of CC"

A website is not a good place to write your stories. Use a word processor!

It has happend a few times that we have received a message from people who lost their story while writing it into the Submit story form here on CC. In these cases, what has happened is the person had their "Submit story" page open for a few hours while diligently picking in their story, but when they hit "Submit" their session on the website has timed out and they are logged out and instead of their story being submitted they were presented with a "please log in" page.

The inline crit form is more resilient to lost sessions and it autosaves your work every few seconds so this is not as big of a problem there but the story form is only meant for a copy/paste of your story text, which is why I haven't implemented any elaborate rescue features in there.

You should not write your story in CC's Submit story form. Never!

Epilogue - Saving yourself from a lost web session

Since I'm on the subject of losing a web session while submitting a form...

CC tries to log you back in if your session times out, and if you have clicked the 'remember me' checkbox on the login page it will most often succeed and you won't even know that you've been logged out. However, sometimes this doesn't work. Don't panic though!

I'll tell you about a little trick. If you get logged out when submitting a form anywhere online, you can most often recover your data.

In the image above I've tried to submit a story but was logged out in the interim and CC failed to rescue my session. The important thing to remember here is that your browser still has the information that you submitted; it isn't lost. However, if you do the wrong thing it will be.

To explain, if you click the browser's refresh button you will get a dialog akin to this one:

The browser is telling you that it will submit your form data again. This is good, but it will just error out again if you try to submit so you'll need to log back in before submitting. Do not log in using the form at the top of the page since that will make you lose your data. Rather, open up a new browser tab, navigate to in that tab and log in. Now that you are logged into CC in another tab, switch back to this one and refresh the page now.

Your browser will share the session between all the open tabs on CC. Therefore, now when you refresh and click "resend" you will do so with a new session and your story goes through, yay! smiley

In some modern browsers, clicking the browser's back button will also present you with the form filled out with the text that you had put in, but that doesn't always work so well, especially with Internet Explorer (you should be using Firefox anyway, it will change your life).

Ok, that's that. Where was I? Oh yes, don't write your story into a form on a website - unless it's a dedicated word processor like Google Documents, which is pretty safe.

We also get requests for old archived stories where the person had lost their only copy of the story and was hoping that CC still had it. If you haven't explicitly deleted the story off CC we do have it somewhere, but I would ask you not to rely on CC for your backup. I would really hate it if you lost your story if CC's database suffered a failure (Don't panic, we do have a nightly backup).


Although it probably sounds like it, I'm not affiliated with Dropbox in any way and I'm not affiliated with seat-belt manufacturers either. Please, pretty please with sugar on top, use both of them! smiley


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