Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Virtual Safeguards

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.


  1. (Pulling up a chair to take notes...)

    1. Me, too -- I'd like to know what everyone else is doing. One thing I forgot to mention in the post is that I've never done anything to safeguard the blog, so now I'm building a twin free site with the archives from PBW on another free service, in case Blogger ever accidentally or purposely deletes the blog.

    2. You can back up your blog pretty easily. I have a reminder in place to to this every months or so. Here are excellent directions w/screenshots:

      Be sure to back up both the blog posts AND your template.

    3. I hear you about Google deleting blogs - I'm reading more and more about Blogger blogs being removed without notice to the blogger. Scary stuff.

      Thanks for the heads up on the ideas to duplicate blogs, that is a great idea. I have four on Blogger and my simplicity blog is 7 years old and huge - would really hate to lose it. Duplication sounds smart and something I need to schedule over a weekend.

      Also, I'm going to check out the thesitsgirls backup post. Thanks for that, too!

      Thought I'd share this site with everyone: HTTrack Website Copier.
      It's free and it copies the entire site, its structure, etc. and while the site's FAQs reference the problems some folk have had with their sites, I've used this with my Blogger blogs and haven't had any problems with it. Of course, if they keep monkeying with Blogger this might change .... grrrr....

  2. Having lost things to power outages and computer issues...and my own stupidity, I'm completely paranoid. I back up all significant files that have changed every day. I save it to a thumb drive that I periodically reformat, send it as a zip file to my gmail account, and back it up on my computer and on my husbands. Then once a month I cut a DVD of all my significant files. Sure, it's probably overkill, but redundancy is the key, and I have had to recover files from my nightly backups before.

    1. You have an excellent routine. And I don't think there is any such thing as overkill when it comes to virtual property, Margaret.

    2. :). It's not paranoia if the data can really be lost, right?

      As to the blog, that's one of the reasons I switched to my own site. Not only do I have complete control, but Tigertech keeps backups so I could restore back to one day pretty easily.

  3. Thank you for bringing this up. I have a good backup service on-line but I really should get into the habit of making physical copies as well.

    1. Tanja, if you don't mind me asking, which service do you use? I've been contemplating signing up with one for offsite backups so my relatives don't have to keep saving USB drives for me, and I'm interested to know if any of these services are decent.

    2. I've been using Livedrive ( and so far it's worked great for me. I'm subscribing to the ProSuit option which is quite pricey at 14.95 pounds a month (around 30 dollars I think). But I think it's well worth it because it offers me a "briefcase" that works similar to Dropbox, I can access the files in there from any computer etc. And I have a real Backup, that can only be accessed from my computer or via their online service. The Backup storage is unlimited and the Briefcase allows 2TB. I've set up the Backup that it checks my files every hour and uploads any changes automatically.
      It's not cheap but I think it's well worth it for the peace of mind it offers. Hope that helps :)

    3. I would like to update my reply by saying that I've cancelled my Livedrive account. My husband has experienced a lot of troubles with restoring old files that he had backuped for safekeeping. Their software saying it had been dowloaded and restored when it hadn't, and vice versa, saying that it had been backuped when it hadn't.

      So, it's back to the drawing board for me. At the moment I'm using an old fashioned memory card, a usb and keeping my fingers crossed until I can come up with a longterm solution.

  4. Fran Kane4:20 AM

    I'm afraid I'm old school - if I want to keep something important, its got to be on paper. My will, birth certificates, life insurances etc are all filed safely away.

    However with all the movies & books I've read about the end of the world, natural / unnatural disasters etc I can't help thinking "what happens if we suddenly lose all power?". The threat of an EM pulse, major earthquake, mother nature fighting back etc is real. Its not just losing what's on my personal computer, its losing everything nationally / internationally and having no way to access it. I know books & documents take up space but in the event of a nuclear winter or something of that nature at least you'd still have a history.

    Wow, am I on happy pills this morning or what? But you know what I mean. Thankfully I don't have anything important on my lap top, at least not like books or manuscripts and I've backed up all my ebooks on flash drives. All my favourite 're-read over' books are in real proper book form and over run my flat - at least they're safe from the virtual world.

    1. I'm old school in a lot of ways, too, Fran. If my house burned down, I'd lose a personal collection of books that it's taken me over forty years to build. More than once it's made me consider scanning them, even if I just convert to electronic copy the odd rare ones that haven't been in print for more than a century. Then there's trying to find the time to do something like that.

  5. In what we now refer to as The Great Computer Crash of 2006, my hard-drive died. I didn't lose any of my writing because I'd been backing that up nightly by emailing copies of my manuscripts to my gmail acct, as well as doing regular backups of my manuscripts to CD. What I lost were about a year's worth of digital photos - including our vacation to Yellowstone and all my cat's baby pictures.

    And of all the things I treasure on this computer what hasn't been backed up lately? My frickin' pics. Thanks for the reminder, Lynn.

  6. There are hazards to both electronic backups and paper backups. Especially in case of fire. We thought of ourselves as belt AND suspenders back up peeps--we had a terrabyte drive in our basement and software to autoback up all the house computers. Wonderful, until your basement is ground zero for a house fire and your backup computer is slag on the concrete floor.

    We were really, really lucky. 1st that we all got out safely. (Please make sure your smoke detectors are working. One on every floor. If it goes off, get out. Fast.) Also lucky in that hubby had a back up of the back up--a portable drive with dupes of all our family photos and he happened to have it upstairs in his office to do some work.

    Really, really lucky in that I had just started to use dropbox for my writing folders 2 weeks before the fire.

    There are a multitude of online/cloud backup services: carbonite, dropbox, google-drive. Most offer some space free.

  7. I've also experienced the horror of losing stuff after a computer crash and I'm on the multiple flash drive insurance plan now, too. However, my anxiety has lessened - and my life has become much more efficient - after my web designer friend introduced me to Dropbox back in January.

    Dropbox is free. Good. Unlimited space. Great. Best part: my documents, photos, etc., are stored at Dropbox and synchronized automatically with my assorted computers. This is fabulous.

    Here's how Dropbox is different from Norton Internet Backup or Carbonite or the other backup services (which I've used, too). Carbonite, etc. do backups but there's not ready access. Which is why I'm in love with Dropbox. Yes, love. LOVE.

    Why? Why LOVE? Okay. What Dropbox does for me is this: automatic sync between my computers and the Dropbox site so my stuff is always safe and I don't have to think about it - once it's set up, it's automatic.

    Which means I can take my coffee into my office in the morning, turn on my desktop, and start working on Project One. Break time, I'm off to walk the dogs. I get back and decide it's so nice that I want to work outside on the deck. Maybe I want to go over to the coffee shop and set outside. Whatever. I grab the laptop, boot it up, and voila, I'm working on Project One, right where I stopped before the break. When I stop, I save Project One. I turn off the laptop and go fix dinner. Or do laundry. Or watch the latest episode of Revenge I've saved on the DVR. Or all three. That evening, I roam back into the office, set down at the desk, and I'm back on the desktop where Project One is ready for me, just as I left it when I turned off the laptop that afternoon.

    Sweet, right? It's great and now, I have less anxiety percolating in my brain about losing everything. It's still there, 24/7/365, but it's less stabby (hat tip to Jenny Lawson). If my computers died, and in San Antonio with our thunderstorms this is always a possibility with the power surges, I work each day with the knowledge that all my stuff is safely stored not only on my flash drives but also there on the web, at

    Highly recommend it. Hope you guys try it out, I think lots of ya'll will find it a great help too.

    Have a great week, and as always Lynn, thanks for this blog!

  8. Dropbox is helpful and free and awesome as Reba already mentioned. I also backup on an external hard drive, print stuff out, and email just about everything important to my writing partner, which has the added benefit of being saved in my gmail account now because I never delete anything in my email.

  9. I have several hundred gigabytes of digital photos. These are both photos I've taken, and family photos from the last 100 years that I've had scanned. The last time I checked a year or two ago I couldn't find a free virtual back up with unlimited space. I will definitely check out Drop Box.
    My solution- I have two external hard drives. I keep one in our safe deposit box at the bank, and take it out somewhere between every 2-6 months (depending on how much I've got to add). I also keep one at home that I back up with recent stuff. The latter protects against computer wipe outs. The former, home disasters.
    If Drop Box does work for me I'd probably add it to the routine, rather than substitute it. The more protection (especially when it's easy to do) the better.

  10. helen8:26 AM

    Only somewhat related to this comment...
    Do you watch any tv? I saw an ad for a tv show starting up in the fall that looks like an awesome dystopian...all electronics stop at the same time.
    Also a great book from back in the day about all electronics stopping and mythological creatures coming to life-Ariel by Stephen R Boyett, I so loved this book in HS I must have read it 100 times, the covers came off and had duct tape plastered to them and it was rubber banded together. I bought the new edition when it came out in HC a couple of years ago and it was just as good as I remembered.

  11. I back up my writing daily to our home server and a thumb drive. My entire laptop gets backed up to an external hard drive once every few months.

    But I rarely print out paper copies. Ink is too expensive!

  12. If a bookmarked site goes away, you might find it again using The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Just copy the url and paste it into the Wayback search box at this address:

    You probably won't get the images, but the text should be there, unless the old site's owner blocked any archiving.

  13. I always copy those long posts to a separate document afterwards, especially when it is related to my work or what I’m currently writing about. As for websites, I usually download the whole thing. Though formatting might get messed up, at least you have a working offline copy of the website should you need to peruse it again.