Writer PSA: Back up your files. NOW.

tech difficultiesSome of you may have noticed that I was AWOL this past weekend. For the first time in something like three years, I failed to publish a weekend edition. The reason? Last Tuesday, my computer up and died on me. I was in the middle of a client conference call when the screen on my 2011 MacBook Pro went black. No amount of coaxing, swearing, or praying would get my machine to boot back up. I wound up finishing the client call using my daughter’s Chromebook (thank goodness the docs I was presenting were in the cloud!), and then spent the next thirty-six hours dealing with technical difficulties:

  • Bad News: The computer definitely wasn’t coming back to life on its own.
  • Good News: I found a fabulous technician who was able to diagnose the problem for me in only a couple of hours.
  • Bad News: The problem was a defective motherboard.
  • Good News: The motherboard was under warranty due to an Apple recall.
  • Bad News: I had to take the machine in to Apple, which meant I’d be without it for a few days.
  • Good News: The fabulous technician was able to help me move a few files off my unharmed hard drive and into the cloud. Also, my dad’s old (circa 2005-ish) iMac was sitting, unused, in my daughter’s room.
  • Bad News: The machine was so old that I couldn’t fully update the OS, which meant that I couldn’t use my wireless trackpad or keyboard and was therefore stuck using an ancient keyboard and mouse.
  • Good News: At least I could access the Internet.
  • Bad News: Because I couldn’t update the OS, I also couldn’t update my browsers. Ultimately, the poor old machine couldn’t take it anymore and started crashing every time I opened more than two tabs in a browser window.

You get the idea.

On top of the above shenanigans, I also had to deal with the problem of passwords. I’m one of those stupid well-intentioned but less-than-savvy people who keeps all her passwords in a text doc on her hard drive. Not a good plan, people. This caused plenty of trauma for the few days I was without my computer, and continued to wreak havoc even when I got my machine back because the new motherboard made third-party sources (like, for instance, all my email accounts) assume that the machine I now had was different from my old one and therefore had to be reconnected and verified. That took two hours on Monday. Fun.

What You Should Do. Now.

I share all this gory detail with you because I hope it might help you understand the very real, day-to-day, in-the-trenches complications a technology glitch can cause. Even though (thank the gods!), I didn’t have any data loss, it was still a pretty big challenge to get everything back to rights after my technology crisis.

Though I am not an expert about computer backups, here are the backup methods I wrote about back in 2014, and which I still currently use:

Carbonite: This is a cloud backup system that works in the background – automatically backing up your files in real time. This is a paid service, but it’s very much worth the peace of mind that comes from knowing that even if you’re being lazy about manual backups, your important files and photos, etc. are still being backed up on a regular basis. [2016 Update: I had to contact Carbonite’s customer support team to help me reconfigure and reactive Carbonite after the repair, and they were very, very helpful.]

External Hard Drive: Because I don’t trust any virtual backup 100%, I also purchased an external hard drive. After talking with a “genius” at the apple store, I went with something called a G-drive Slim. I also learned that it’s important, if you’re a Mac user, to have something called Time Machine (a built-in apple feature) turned on because that will ensure that your backup not only contains your files, but keeps them organized in the directories and folders that you created. Otherwise, your backup will just be a jumble of unorganized files. (Can you imagine the nightmare?)

Dropbox: Though I haven’t upgraded to the Pro or Business plans (yet), I understand that they do have an Extended History option that provides another, in-the-cloud backup option. Worth exploring, especially if you’re already a Dropbox fan. For now, I just manually add copies of critical documents to my free dropbox account as an extra bit of insurance.

Old-School – Email: In a pinch, I’ve also emailed copies of documents to alternate email accounts (like my Gmail account) in order to have another copy out there somewhere … just in case.

In addition, I’d like to add Google Drive to my list of favorite back up tools. I’ve recently begun using Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Drive to collaborate with my clients. This cloud-based service allows me to share docs and, because we’re all working on a single “live” doc in real time, there are no version control issues to deal with. In addition, because I can add as many collaborators as I like, Google Drive makes it easy to aggregate everyone’s comments in one place.

In terms of acting as a back up, Google Drive is a HUGE help if something goes wrong with your hardware because you can access it from any computer (as long as you have your Google password).

Which brings me to another point: Make sure you have all your passwords saved somewhere safe. I can’t even give you solid advice on the best way to do this. I was able to copy my desktop text doc to Dropbox in order to have access to my passwords while my machine was at the Applecare triage center, but I don’t think this is the safest or most efficient option. I know there’s something called “keychain” that I should probably look into. I also know some people who keep all their passwords in a hardcopy notebook (very old school … something that’s appealing to me after all my tech trauma).

The point is, you need a disaster plan. I know it’s not fun to think about, but – trust me on this – you’ll be better off if you have one. As a freelancer who is always working on multiple deadlines, even one day of unplanned down time can send my whole world into a tailspin. Save yourself the agony and aggravation and spend a couple hours working out an emergency back up/access plan that will keep you at least partially operational in the face of technical difficulties.

I hope you never have to put your plan into action, but (as the cliche says) – better safe than sorry!


Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
Photo Credit: tvoperator146 via Compfight cc

25 thoughts on “Writer PSA: Back up your files. NOW.

  1. This is the nightmare. Computer meltdowns happen to all of us at some point, but I’m always surprised when it happens to me. I’m glad that you didn’t lose anything too important. (Notwithstanding passwords of course.)

    • You’re right, Kristen. We are all vulnerable, but mostly we just think it’ll never happen. Best to be prepared. I just set up keychain on my MacBook this morning. Now I just have to go Google what the heck it is and how to use it. 😉

      • I’m curious, too! But it sounds like maybe it’s just a Mac thing…? (Total Windows fangirl over here.)

  2. Technology crashes are such a nightmare. I fried a computer a few years ago. Thank goodness I had all my writing files backed up. Now I even more obsessively back them up in multiple places, including having them on a flash drive at my parents’ house in case my house were to burn down and all cloud systems collapse. A disaster plan is a must.

    • Sounds like you have redundancy covered, Lori! That’s awesome. My mom and I often email each other important docs, so we have backups in multiple places. I don’t keep any flash drives, but I have my external hard drive. I ought to look into flash drives as well … can’t hurt, right? 😉

  3. Believe it or not, back-ups come pretty easy to me – in the modern age of technology, it’s super simple to automatically back things up. After my last computer failed completely (it’s currently being used to level a table – not even kidding) I started obsessively saving to a flash drive and Google Docs. It helps that some of my clients prefer to receive files through GDocs, too, and I tend to toss a post directly into their WordPress site when I can, too. I feel like it must be irritating getting extra e-mails on behalf of my work, but I think it MUST be better than the alternative – which would be risking losing the file completely if something were to happen. Yet, with all this, I still end up forgetting to save until after a file is totally finished… Trying to get myself into the habit of saving at the end of every pomodoro session, but that habit is slow-going!

    • I’m loving GDocs for client work. It’s SO much easier to collaborate and to ensure that there’s a cloud-based version of the material out there (just in case). I also love that GDocs automatically saves as you’re working, so there’s no need to remember to save at the end of a writing session. I think most software (Word, Scrivener, etc.) offers this autosave feature, and you can configure it (to define how frequently you want auto saves to happen) in settings.

      Good luck!

      • Sadly, my Word *won’t* auto-save, which actually makes me really, really irritated because I KNOW it’s supposed to, but every time it crashes, I lose everything. You’d think it would teach me to save more often, but it sure hasn’t.

      • Even though mine is set up to auto-save, I often lose stuff, too. That’s why Word is NOT my favorite!

  4. I have a paid account with DropBox and love it, totally worth the price to avoid the jolt to your life the dying computer caused you!! This is also important to writers, because you’d hate to loose something so valuable as your works in progress. Also need SEVERAL back ups since Word files like to get corrupted if they get too big. If you autosave to Drop or the Cloud you just saved the corrupted version. Had that happen, I almost cried real tears.

    • Excellent point about corrupted Word files. Personally, I hate Word. I use Scrivener mostly these days, though I’ve heard some horror stories about that software as well. I guess the safest bet is to regularly export any large file into multiple formats as a cautionary measure. Great. One more thing to add to my To Do list. 😉

      Thanks for the great tip!

  5. For passwords, you might want to look into lastpass or 1password. I’ve used both, and they help immensely. If you don’t want a paid service, rather than using a text file on dropbox, another option I use (for passwords that I don’t want to have in any other medium) is fsekrit. It’s an encrypted notepad- I create a file for passwords, then it encrypts it into an executable. I run it, it prompts me for the master password, and then decrypts in a convenient interface that I can sync on dropbox.


    Free, and it works well.

  6. I hate having no computer for a few days. It’s always noticeable when every ad on tv says go to our website. You should write down your passwords on paper. At least you would have them in case you don’t have the computer up and running.

  7. I started using 1Password (one of the programs Chuck recommends above) in January and it’s great – as long as I’m on my computer. I think I’ll look into the program he links to above for something portable. So sorry for your troubles, and thanks for letting us learn from them. All best.

    • Thanks, Deborah. I’m definitely going to check out the options suggested here.
      Meanwhile – more computer problems in my world yesterday & I get to spend more time with Applecare today. Kind of frustrating. My top-of-the-line machine is only five years old, but you’d think – based on the reaction of Apple folk – that it’s some kind of relic that should have broken down (and been replaced) years ago. One day at a time. 😉

  8. These days we cannot escape anything technological and when our computers, tablets, servers crash and burn they don’t just take down the tech they bring every human being to a complete and utter stand still! The cloud offers us some safety net but i suppose it doesn’t help if you can’t remember your password 🙂 thanks for the tips everyone definitely going to look into these programs.

    • Redundant systems are key. I’m having more problems with my computer this week, so I’m about to go move a bunch more of my working docs to Google Drive and Dropbox … just in case.

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  10. Thank you for the information. In my case I have learnt the computer from my son and then kept on adding to my knowledge. I have hardly any knowledge on the technical side and he is the one doing it all for me. So I guess I am fortunate that way. Best of luck and hope everyone’s computers stay in good order without suddenly going off. Love from me ❤

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