Backing Up Isn’t Sexy…But Neither Is Losing Your Work

I know the subject of backing up is terrible. It isn’t actually about making your writing better. It’s a technical voodoo most writers tend to ignore. Those who mention backing up find others saying something like, “I should do this more often. I haven’t backed up in a month.”

I was taught to back up when I started writing by an IT professional named Chrys Thorsen. How good is she? Chrys is a network administrator and network security expert for the White House in Washington D.C. I’m about to pass what she taught on to you. I’ll start with my own back up story.

Sandra Kleinschmitt

I know the subject of backing up is terrible. It isn’t actually about making your writing better. It’s a technical voodoo most writers tend to ignore. Those who mention backing up find others saying something like, “I should do this more often. I haven’t backed up in a month.”

I was taught to back up when I started writing by an IT professional named Chrys Thorsen. How good is she? Chrys is a network administrator and network security expert for the White House in Washington D.C.  I’m about to pass what she taught on to you. I’ll start with my own back up story.

Why Backing Up Is Important

In 2004 I began writing my first paranormal romance. I finished the first draft mid-2005. Then, life got in the way. Over the next 14 years I dabbled, not knowing how to revise. It took until 2018, when someone mentored me, for revision to begin in earnest. This was a lot of work, grinding away, self-learning how to adapt a role play into a novel. Some things were irreplaceable.

 In 2019 I was partway through the revision. It was a printed manuscript. I was hand writing in the changes. I ended up in the hospital getting my legs amputated, which put me away from my home for ten and one half months.

Four months into that, my house caught fire.

My manuscript was locked away inside a boarded up house. When I’d decided I had recovered enough of my brain to tackle my novel again, I still had no access to the paper version. I didn’t even know if it survived. Not having a replacement computer yet, I discovered Scrivener for iPhone. Now all I needed was a copy of my manuscript that was as up to date as possible.

Luckily, I’d backed up to several sources.

I checked iCloud. I only had partials, or files were corrupt. Same thing for my thumb stick—partials or corrupted files. I looked in my Gmail and Yahoo-- Partials only. Not even a full copy between them.

I knew the room with the paper copy was not fire damaged. I trusted I might still get someone to collect it for me. If it didn’t exist? Well, I could never have recreated some things in exactly the same way. I felt ill thinking I had maybe lost all that work after fourteen years. Still, I decided to go forward with the follow up novel.

When I set up Scrivener for iPhone it connected to my forgotten account on Dropbox. Thank all the gods in the sky for Dropbox! There on Dropbox was a full manuscript.

The only reason I had a good copy of it? I followed Chrys Thorsen’s instructions, backing up in several places with several instances of my files. Obviously, I’d neglected the practice or I wouldn’t have so many partial and corrupted files.  Despite my lack of attention to the lessons, I still had one copy of my hard work to go off of. So, what did Chrys teach me?

The Process Of Backing Up

No. 1: Save Incrementally And Frequently

My first contact with writers amazed me at how many do not save as they go while writing. Saving is important just to be certain your changes don’t get wiped out by Electronic Gods with a power surge or sudden shut down from overheating—or the dreaded Blue Screen—losing what hasn’t been saved. It’s actually fairly simple. While it only takes a second of time, I am surprised at how easy it is to simply ignore the process of saving, let alone backing up. Incremental saves and back ups are key to this process. Many people have had hard drive failure right in the middle of writing. They have gone hours without saving incrementally. So hit Save regularly as you go.

No. 2: Back Up To At Least A Second And Third Source

Hitting Ctrl-S saves your work to one particular location. However, redundancy and differing locations are your friend when it comes to backing up. At the end of each writing session backing up should be a habit. This is what Chrys taught me. I say ‘should’ because even I’m guilty of not doing it one-hundred percent. Which is foolish considering what I’ve been through. However I do strive to back up as much often as possible.

The point of a back up is so that you only lose a portion of your work, not all of it. In the 80s, Bank of America lost eight hours worth of financial transactions for all of their clients. That was eight hours in one day. Banks, at the time, only backed up at the end of the business day. You better believe the Federal Government said, “We better start banks doing incremental back ups during the day going forward.” And yes that was quite a disaster. How precious is your blood sweat and tears over your writing? Can you put a monetary value on your time?

What counts as a source? Anything which isn’t your computer’s hard drive. Any of the following will do:

  • A stand alone secondary hard drive.
  • A memory stick
  • An SD or microSD card
  • CD re-writeable
  • DVD re-writeable
  • Webmail, such as Gmail or Yahoo!
  • Cloud service like Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox or OneDrive
  • Smartphone, tablet or similar which has storage capabilities

There are also back up services. These will take an image of your entire hard drive. It’s still a back up, but for some it may be overkill. Used more often by businesses to save sensitive information, these do take a little more time, though not as much as trying to recreate that trilogy. ;) However, the cost is more than a cloud server and may be beyond your budget..

How about that website you pay money for? This is not recommended by reason of traditional publishing. If you want your story accepted by a traditional publisher, they usually ask if it’s been published anywhere else. If your story is on the web where someone could view it without having to log in, many publishers consider that to be publishing—even if there’s no link to the story anywhere. They have for over fifteen years. This is why CC doesn’t threaten your ability to publish—a log in is required. If you have a way to password protect the file, then that would work. Otherwise, don’t use your website as a back up source.

What about if I just print out a copy and have that around? Actually, Chrys had an answer for this, too. Yes, a print out is a back up. But, because of the way disasters occur,  protecting your manuscript by backing it up as a hardcopy would be to store it—I’m not making this up-=-30 miles away in a different location from where you live. That sounds like quite a hassle to me, especially if you write every single day. However, it’s the recommended distance to make sure that if the disaster happened in your area it would be unlikely to effect the area where your hard copy back up lives. Think this sounds excessive? Next time there’s a flood, wildfire, twister, hurricane or earthquake, look at the scope of the damage. Covers a lot of acreage, doesn’t it?

No. 3: Add The Date To The File Name

You’re backing up daily. But which file is which? Confusion is easily solved. When you save all your work at the end of the day, save a new file with the date in the name. Say I’m working on Lady Saffron on 1 August 2021. At the end of the day I’d save it with this name:


When I save at the end of 2 August it’s LadySaffron20210802. You get the gist. This way you can tell the date of the last time you worked the project. If you find something missing—like I recently found a whole scene in Scrivener with no words in it—you can go back and find your previous day’s work and restore it.

How many instances should you keep? Seven is sufficient. Periodically go through your back ups and purge the ones that are beyond that.

One More Thing…

I should also mention something about file format. Scrivner is my preferred writing program now. When I started writing I used a PC only program called Write Way Pro. Chrys insisted I save everything in .RTF. This preserves formatting, with the added bonus of being read by virtually any text type word processor.  Also, .RTF is not subject to computer viruses. Although not all viruses are geared this way, many are aimed at files ending in .EXE, .DOC/X and .XLS/X.

Sound like a hassle? So is losing your work forever. Chrys calls it Catastrophic Data Loss. You can avoid this, too, and far more easily. Just remember the steps.

To list it all again:

  1. Save regularly while you’re writing.
  2. Save the file with the date in the name of the file to .RTF format
  3. Save the file again (this can be copy and paste of the newly saved file) to at least two more sources, one preferably portable, if not remote. Again please use the naming convention with the date and the title.
  4. If saving to webmail, put the subject as Back Up MyNovelThisYearThisMonthThisDay
  5. Keep seven of the last instances, purging the ones beyond that periodically
  6. Lather, rinse, repeat every time you write.. Period. End of sentence.

Back up early. Back up often. Make sure that the date is on each daily save you make. Keep seven instances of your last daily saves. This saved me. It can save you.

Peace of mind is a beautiful thing. And now, knowing where all my pieces are and knowing that I’ve taken care to be certain what happened to me and other authors never happens again, I feel confident and competent in my ability to protect my hard work. Catastrophic Data Loss is a thing. It’s preventable with a minimum of fuss. If you don’t think it will happen to you, I can only say this: Neither did I.

19+ Comments


A compelling true story and some good advice here. I keep two copies of my files commonly updated, one on my computer and one in online storage (OneDrive). I also have a copy that I update monthly, and of course the copies I have in CC.

So far, I haven’t had the need to use any of my backups (thank God) but I do know an associate whose softcopies go corrupted and he had to start working again with an old draft (he didn’t keep an online copy!!). Aside from the additional work revising again, it is probably super demoralizing.

Dec-14 2021


Dropbox works really well in this regard, at least when working on laptops/PCs - I’m using its drive as the main folder structure for everything writing-related, and with that, saves on their servers and on all devices where it’s synched, and downloads everything on a new device after dropbox is installed. Everything with zero attention from me.

Dec-14 2021


Thank you Sandra, this is timely for me. This is the first time in a very long time that I have taken my writing seriously and have over the past year generated more work in different forms than I have over the past thirty years. I have been debating what routines to get into with back-up.
The information about publishers disliking easily accessed materials on open websites is very interesting as I have held back from some sites and I am glad I have now.
You have sold me on drop box and opened my eyes to ways in which the hard copy can be vulnerable. Thanks again.

Dec-14 2021


My pleasure. :smiley:

Dec-14 2021


So true. I learned this the hard way many years ago when writing a fantasy novel. Not backing up regularly lost me around 25,000 words, which I had to reconstruct from memory and notes. It’s a good ‘belt and braces’ policy to have one backup at home, one kept remotely (say at a friend’s house) and one in the cloud. Remember that if you are hit by an encryption scam, it will not just get your hard drive, but anything connected at the time (such as a USB drive and cloud drive). Better safe than sorry.

Dec-14 2021


Losing work is not fun. I’m glad you had a decent copy on Dropbox. I save on OneDrive daily, but I don’t sync stuff, because I tend to create a lot of files as I go, and I back up the most recent ones and leave the others. I started using computers in the early 90s, and files would become corrupt quite frequently. I never got out of the habit of making multiple copies.

Clouds are still vulnerable to ransomware, so I got Bitdefender, because it has randsomware remediation (but I’m not quite sure how this works).

I also back my stuff up once every few days on an external hard drive, and I have a recent printed copy of each of my four books, plus the outline for a trilogy, and an outline for a sci fi novel. I didn’t know the tip about rtf format. Good one. I will do that today. :smile:

Dec-14 2021


I was in IT for thirty years. I was fired from one job after I failed to back up information before “hitting the button” to update the information with incorrect data. l learned my lesson. This blog is a good reminder to do so. I have a back up of my work on my laptop and a thumb drive and a removable hard drive . Any back up is better than none.

Dec-14 2021


thank you for this reminder - I promptly backed up my work!

Dec-14 2021


I use Scrivener. It auto-saves every time I pause typing for a couple of seconds. Yet, I back up my work in a separate folder every day, then backup that folder onto my Google Drive. :grin:

Dec-14 2021


:sparkles: O U C H ! :sparkles: Good point and yes, better safe than sorry.

Dec-14 2021


Yep I cried many a tear over lost files that somehow didn’t get backed up. Even with Dropbox. It worked fine for me FOR YEARS. My issue is every now and again my computer reboots on it’s own and for whatever reason (not always) whatever I’d worked on that day didn’t get backed up and sometimes it was a LOT. :sob: So I got SUPER paranoid about making sure I backed it up. Sometimes nearly tripping as I ran back to my computer because I’d forgotten to hit save before walking away. Then I discovered OneDrive and it’s been a lifesaver. It auto saves after almost every word and it’s never let me down yet anytime my stupid computer reboots on it’s own.

Dec-14 2021


Having spent more than 35 years in the software business, I could sit here and tell you horror stories that would make you lose your hair. The worst one is a customer who hadn’t backed up his system in nearly four years. When it crashed, he lost everything and nearly went out of business. Backing up is your only hope to avert disaster.

Dec-14 2021


Fantastic blog post, as informative as it is useful :star2: And don’t forget that if you’re a Premium member, you can create a creditless queue for backup purposes too! Guaranteed to be around for as long as CC is :slight_smile:

Dec-14 2021


There’s an author who tells this story from about a minute before word processors and computers were invented.

The author, in Minnesota, wrote a novel. He mentioned it to a golf buddy who had published a golf manual. The golf buddy hooked the author up with his editor in New York. The editor called the author and asked him to read the first chapter over the phone. The editor listened to 5, after which he told the author to have the MS and himself in the publisher’s offices on Friday.

The author, excited, made a family event out of it. He packed up his wife, their son and the only typewritten version of his MS which existed and went by train to New York, because flying was expensive. He had the MS in a brand new briefcase he purchased just for the occasion, which he kept next to him or in his hand, except for the one time at a station stop, he used the men’s room. He put it down to wash his hands–and forgot to take the briefcase with him.

It was 2 more stops before he realized what happened. They got off the train, went back to the previous stations–no one turned it in and it was not in the men’s room. He never saw it again.

The author was Garrison Keillor, of A Prairie Home Companion fame. He made an entire career of writing stories in an attempt to recreate that novel. He says he sometimes captures a flash of the brilliance that novel was, but never really came close. Luckily for Keillor, he’s entertaining enough to have made a career out of it. Most of us are not going to be able to do that.

Dec-14 2021


Well said, Sandra!

There are programs and services that will back up selected files and folders continuously to an external hard drive or to the cloud. That can reduce your potential loss to a few minutes’ work, as opposed to manually backing up at the end of a day or a writing session.


Dec-14 2021


Reading this sparked one thought: backing up to the cloud (I use OneDrive) is nearly perfect since it’s 100% automatic and 99.9% trustworthy. BUT the cloud doesn’t protect you from your own mistakes. For example, if your laptop is crushed under a car tire, just buy a new laptop and link back to your cloud account. Everything is restored. But DELETE a file by accident? It’s deleted from the cloud too. Now you’re dependent on the recycle bin. You’d better figure out what you did wrong before you empty that recycle bin! In my 40+ years of using computers, it’s the blunders that will get you, not the fires/crashes/earthquakes.

Dec-15 2021


Hard to argue with this. Gotta protect against your own self.

Dec-15 2021


cloud storage saves automatically.

Dec-16 2021


But that’s a bad thing for backup. It means that if your file gets corrupted, the corrupted version will be automatically backed up as well. Automatic, saves-to-type cloud systems (like OneDrive) isn’t a backup, it just having your working data in the cloud. You still need to back it up somewhere else.

It’s worth pointing out that Microsoft are very clear in their T&Cs that OneDrive or SharePoint are not backup solutions and they don’t actually guarantee your data integrity.

Dec-16 2021
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