I was putting together a proposal the other day when I realized something. Thanks to the internet, social media, e-readers, smart phones and digital cameras virtually all of my work has become, well, virtual. I'm sure it's the same for most of you. Technology allows us to communicate in an instant without paper or ink; in a sense we've all become electronic writers.
Publishing also now conducts most of business with writers virtually; correspondence, contracts, manuscripts, cover art, copy-edits and even some galleys are created and worked on in electronic form. This is not a bad thing, either. After fourteen years of wrestling with six to eight pound manuscripts and waiting on the postal service during production, I'm quite happy we've gone virtual.
What occasionally gives me nightmares is what would happen if some manner of catastrophe silenced or erased all the things we've entrusted to virtual form. In a way this has already happened to me once; many years ago I lost three computers on the same day, and eight years of my writing, art and photographs simply vanished. That included about fifty manuscripts I'd never bothered to print out. Eventually I recovered everything, but it taught me a valuable lesson. Ever since that disaster I've been making multiple back ups and hard copies of everything I do, and storing other virtual copies on flash drives elsewhere. Naturally that's no guarantee it will survive a major catastrophe, but it's the only creative insurance we've got.
Btw, have you backed up your files lately? If you haven't, do it now, and make a commitment to doing the same at least once a week. Trust me, you never want to face losing any work, much less eight years of it.
It takes time to put things into physical form, time no one seems to have anymore -- even me. Whenever I visit an old internet bookmark and find a site with content that I used or liked has vanished, it's almost always one that I never bothered to print out or save in electronic form or hard copy. One of my favorite sites of all time recently disappeared, and I tried to e-mail the owner to see if I could get copies of the content. The e-mail bounced back, unread, and since the owner lives on the other side of the planet I can't exactly go over, knock on his door and ask what happened.
While the virtual world is fast and convenient and hardly any trouble at all, it's also vulnerable. As busy as we are these days, we tend to forget this. Depending solely on it to preserve our voices, our writing, our art and all the things we create and love is dangerous. For the things that exist solely in virtual form, the things that are important and/or can't be redone from scratch or replaced, everyone needs a backup plan.
So what are you doing to protect yourself and your virtual property? Have you used any online services that you've found helpful (and free or cheap?) Let us know in comments.