Perhaps the greatest nightmare every writer fears is that sinking feeling you have when your computer crashes and you haven't saved your work. Hours of writing and editing are lost in a single electronic failure. As someone who has lived through more than her share of computer crashes and viral infections, I thought I'd pass along some tips for backing up your writing.
The first thing to remember is that not all is lost when a computer crashes. Some systems have automatic backups and temp files where you may be able to find MOST of your recent writing. You can also hire computer experts (for about $100-200 in my part of the country) to run a save disk that will back up everything they can find on your computer so you can transfer to a working system. In fact, when I had a computer crash a couple of years ago, the computer geek I called saved all but the last day's files from my dead computer.
But what can you do to prevent the loss in the first place? Back up your writing. Make it habit. Do it after every writing session or after a certain period of time. But do it. Accidents and failures happen, and you don't want to be in the unhappy position of trying to salvage possible years worth of effort.
There are several easy ways to back up your writing. Perhaps the most popular choice is email. You can email copies of everything you write to a Web-based email account where you can access it from any computer. Another popular back-up technique includes using a flash drive (also known as a thumb drive), a device that plugs into your computer and downloads all selected documents into its memory. Some people like to back up their work on CDs. I would also like to recommend another excellent resource for baking up your writing (that's free): Google Documents. If you Google "Google Documents," you will find an online server that stores all sorts of documents, everything from MS Word docs to PowerPoint. It's easy to use, password protected, and holds tons of material.
What are the risks of the various means of backing up your work?
Email--Be sure that your email service is accessible from the Web and not just a local network. Also, you should confirm that the email server can handle attachments and doesn't have limited storage options.
Flash Drive--The greatest risk of the flash drive is that it's easy to lose. Don't depend on these for your only back up resource. It's also important to know that not all flash drives are compatible with all systems. A flash drive compatible with MS XP make not be compatible with MS Vista, for instance.
CD--The most obvious risk of using a CD for a back-up system is that CDs are easily damaged and/or corrupted. I've had installation CDs fail after a couple of years, even though they were stored in their original jewel cases and seldom used.
Google and other online services--Make sure they are password protected. An online server should also have a long shelf life on the Internet. You don't want to place your work on a server only to discover that it has closed up shop after a year.
And sometimes, when the work is lost forever, it's good to remember that you can write it again--perhaps even better than the first time. Hemmingway once lost a manuscript on a train, never to see it again. But he believed the book he wrote to replace that one was a much better work.