Avoiding Writing Disasters

All too often, angst-ridden writers post about how they have lost or messed up their work in progress. Surprisingly this includes traditionally published authors with many books behind them; laptops are stolen, manuscripts are corrupted or deleted in their entirety. The writer’s biggest crisis is losing an entire book ­– the modern equivalent of leaving your only typescript on a train or throwing it in the bin in a fit of temper.

Amazingly, some authors still do not back up their work. Even thirty years ago the advice was that data is worth backing up if the time expended is slightly less than it would take to repeat the whole body of work. I’m absent-minded by nature, so need the discipline of the regular back-up.   

Methods exists to suit every temperament and degree of tech-savvy;

  • Print it out (wasteful, but old school).
  • Copy to a USB drive or external hard drive. Keep these away from your main PC in case of disaster such as fire or flood or burglary. Mine are in the garage.
  • Burn discs of your completed manuscripts. I used to post back up DVDs to my Mum.
  • Email drafts to yourself. I email drafts from my laptop when travelling, aiming to pick up on my main PC when I get back.
  • Manual back up to the cloud, for example to Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft One Drive.
  • Automated back up to the cloud, which is what is happening to this document right now.

You may work entirely in the cloud, for example using a netbook. This saves the risk of the physical loss of your documents, but likewise does not give you the reassurance of a physical back up.

Automated back-ups and the automated save on your computer also prevent that classic error of exiting a file before saving it (we’ve all done that!). However, the advance of technology does introduce some complications, particularly if your software and the cloud are just allowed to do their own thing. You delete a paragraph then realise you need it a few hours later, when it’s too late to ‘undo’. You manage to corrupt the entire document, for example by ‘find and replace’ of a character or place name that also changes every identical chain of letters in the prose. You may embark on a certain correction during editing, decide against it, but then find it difficult to locate the words you have changed. Autosave efficiently embeds these errors faster than you can spot them, and Auto-upload will modify the cloud version of your document at the same pace. For this reason, my laptop is set NOT to automatically upload; I can’t corrupt my master files with some late-night tapping while bored on a train.

The key is to start a new file each day you commence writing, possibly with a draft number or date. So my work in progress is ‘Blackshirt Rebellion Draft 1 1023’; ‘…1022’ was yesterday’s draft. Open your manuscript, ‘save as’ the new name, and start typing. If you corrupt today’s work, yesterday’s is unaffected. The offending paragraphs can be lifted and replaced or in extremis you can revert to yesterday’s version. When a plotline simply isn’t working you can indeed go back a week or two and salvage the draft that did work. If a whole section needs to be sliced out, copy it into a ‘dump’ file so it can be put back when you change your mind or want to recycle the scene later in the book.

For my fellow absent-minded ones among you, just make sure you are working on the most current version. My PC has an annoying habit of offering a random list of ‘recent files’ which do not include the last one I worked on. One trick is to put the word count of your manuscript in bold at the top of the first page. Update this at the end of the day, which will offer a sense of satisfaction and provide one last trick. If ever confused as to which version you should be using, just cross-check the word count.

Blackshirt Masquerade was not thrown in the bin in a fit of temper and is now available from Amazon. More writing tips can be found by following this link.

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2 thoughts on “Avoiding Writing Disasters

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  1. For longer projects like a novel, drafting it longhand will always provide a natural source of a back up. Then that gets transcribed into the computer, which is my second layer of redundancy. That’s followed by uploading to the cloud. That way, I’m practically bulletproof unless a meteor hits Earth.

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