Ever since I lost most of the fiction I’d written between about 2008 and 2010 (eg: from the peak of my writing days) due to a rather serious hard disk error four years ago, I’ve been fairly paranoid about making backups.
And, since one of my USB sticks (with some of my backup files on it) also failed a few weeks ago, I thought that it was about time that I wrote an article about backups.
If you’re writing a lot of fiction or making a lot of digital art or scanned traditional art, then you should be making regular multiple backups of all your stuff and have at least something of an emergency plan for hardware failures too.
For example, I’ve made two bootable “Puppy Linux” Live CDs which will at least let my computer fuction offline in the event of a physical hard disk failure.
I’ve also got an old Windows 98 computer from the late 90s/early 2000s which I haven’t used in years. This served as a backup unit during my hard drive crash in 2010. But, if you’ve got a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone, then these could also serve as good hardware backups.
Fortunately, making backups isn’t as difficult as it sounds and sometimes you’ll end up having multiple backups without realising it (eg: if you scan your drawings, then either the original drawing and/or the scanned copy can serve as a backup). But I thought that I’d list a few easy ways to make as many backups as possible.
1) USB Sticks: These are fairly cheap and perfectly suited for storing regular backups – however, it’s probably a good idea to keep copies of your backups on more than one USB stick because, as I mentioned earlier, they sometimes have a habit of failing.
They’re also perfect for backing up writing too and you’d be surprised at how little memory a lot of writing can take up (for example, all of the text on this blog only takes up about 3.5 MB of space – yes, that’s just three or four floppy disks worth of information!).
However, if you’re editing videos or producing lots of high-resolution artwork, then you’re probably better off investing in a removable hard disk than getting a memory stick for the simple reason that the largest size of most currently available memory sticks is about 64 GB, I think.
2) Online: If you post your creative work online, then this is another form of backup. For example, I was able to recover a fair amount of the art and comics I made in 2010 just by downloading them from my DeviantART gallery.
This isn’t exactly a rare thing, as can be seen from this hilarious Youtube video of an artist recovering some of her old art from a fantasy art site called “Elfwood” [some of the art on there may be NSFW].
This method of backing things up isn’t entirely infalliable though, since the site you use may have problems at some point in time or you may or may not have issues with the sites you use at some point in time (eg: I briefly had a couple of problems with this blog in July). So make sure that you have other forms of backups too.
Another way to back up your work online (provided that the file sizes aren’t too large) is to set up a webmail account (eg: Outlook, Gmail etc…) and then e-mail your work to yourself at regular intervals.
Again, this isn’t a 100% reliable form of backup, but it’s a good secondary backup for the most important things you’ve created.
3) Non-proprietary formats: When you’re saving backups, make sure that you use file formats that can be opened by a wide variety of programs and aren’t specific to a particular program.
This is because, if worse comes to worse, you might have to open your backups on other computers (which may not have the programs you use) or you might lose the programs that you used to create/read them.
For example: I save the text of these articles as “.rtf” files, which means that they can be opened in pretty much any text editing program. If I were to save them in Microsoft’s proprietary “.doc” or “.docx” formats, then this would mean that I would also need to have a copy of MS Word in order to open them.
Yes, this isn’t a great example (since some versions of Open Office, like the one I use when I’m not using WordPad, can use these formats) but I hope that you get the idea.
So, use widely-used file formats which can be opened by a wide variety of different programs (eg: “.rtf” or “.txt” text files, “.jpg” or “.png” images and “.mp3″ or “.ogg” sounds).
4) CDs/DVDs: Every few months, I usually end up burning a backup CD or DVD with all of my important files on it. Since most of the blank CDs and DVDs I have aren’t rewritable, this is something of a “last resort” backup which is there for peace of mind more than anything else. However, my old backup CDs were absolutely invaluable after the crash I experienced in 2010.
The advantage of making backup discs is that they are a lot more reliable than USB sticks are and they will work on any computer with a functioning CD or DVD drive (so you don’t have to worry about drivers for your USB sticks if you’re using older technology and/or operating systems).
However, burning a data CD/DVD can take a while to do and you have to find somewhere to store it too – so they’re better for occasional long-term last-resort backups.
Also, you can’t use a backup CD/DVD if you’re also using a bootable Linux live CD (unless you have multiple drives). So, keep some USB backups too.
Anyway, I hope that this has been useful :) Now, make some backups!