Saved, Backed Up and Lost… aka, when precious files go missing

Contrary to what some readers might think, a writer’s life is not a bed of roses. (Okay, I know that’s a cliché, but I wanted to use this photo I took at our church picnic yesterday, so humour me.)


My daughter is going to think this post is directed at her, but it isn’t. Not really. It could have happened to anyone. Losing an important file is devastating. Losing a manuscript is every writer’s worst nightmare. To get a couple different perspectives on what I’m talking about, check out literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s post, “Never, never, never lose your work.” Then perhaps slip over to read DD Shari’s post, “Une petite freak-out.”

We all save our documents. I guess the question becomes HOW do we save them? Shari’s manuscript was duly deposited in Dropbox and regularly saved, and yet a month worth of ‘saves’ after May 7th were apparently ineffective. She’s lost her last month’s work. My important files are also in Dropbox, so now I’m nervous.

How do we back files up to avoid freak-out situations? I thought I was being thorough by also having Time Machine automatically backing up our computers on a Time Capsule… until the Time Capsule died. I also have significant files on a flash drive but I learned of a writer who inserted her flash drive one day, only to find it had been damaged and wasn’t recognized by her computer, so she couldn’t access any of its files.

Rachelle recommends using a remote (off site) backup with a system of automatic saves. She mentions Carbonite, Mozy, iCloud (for Mac users) and Dropbox, but her readers offered several other suggestions as well.

Shari says we shouldn’t get obsessive about it, but one of the people commenting on Rachelle’s post says,
“I have both Dropbox and Carbonite. I also periodically copy files to a flash drive. But just so you know, if you have an interruption to the internet or your computer hangs without crashing…you will lose everything until a reboot restores everything to normal. Lost half a day’s work because I think a power surge froze the computer but it looked like I was still being able to work. I merrily worked but the automatic save didn’t save, and finally after a system crash the whole system went back to an earlier time…So even those aren’t total fail safes. Murphy works around your best-laid plans. Best you can do is mitigate damage and move on.”

I don’t like dancing with Murphy. That’s always risky. After reading other people’s horror stories, I’m thinking I need to take another look at how effective my system would be in various worst-case-scenarios.

What’s your idea of a dependable way to ensure the safekeeping of your manuscripts or other important files?

 ~  ~  ~


13 thoughts on “Saved, Backed Up and Lost… aka, when precious files go missing

  1. Sue Harrison says:

    Hi Carol, interesting post!

    As far as backup, I save to a “stick,” not as often as I should, but enough so I don’t lose everything. I keep one stick in my purse and the other stays on my desk.

    Aside from that, my main backup is very old-fashioned. Each day I print out what I’ve written, punch it and save it in a 3-ring binder. Yep, that costs money for the paper, and, if I lost everything on my computer, I would be doing a lot of re-typing, but it’s totally reliable. I also find the binder very handy for leafing through chapters to check information during rewrites. I also do one complete rewrite by reading through the binder and editing with the good old reliable red pen!

  2. Judith Robl says:

    In the antiquing world, paper copies are know as ephemera because they are easily destroyed. I believe we didn’t know the meaning of ephemera until the electronic age. Things can be changed or lost in the blink of an eye. I love Sue’s method. It is the only one that will not fail you (short of a fire or flood in the house). It is my preferred backup as well. Hard copy is your best security.

  3. I use a flash drive and Dropbox. I also keep my manuscripts on a computer not hooked up to the internet to avoid possible virus. (No security program is perfect.) It’s also a good idea to keep a copy off site in the event of a fire or natural disaster.

  4. Mary Helen says:

    Hi Carol
    I use an external hard drive, and my computer backs everything up periodically. Now one can buy a 1 or 2 Terabyte hard drive for less than a hundred dollars. Worth the funds I think. in response to your other readers who back up their work on paper and think there would be a lot of typing if they lost the electronic copies, I have a voice program called Dragon which I just speak into, and it types for me. It takes a while to get used to it (sort of like an old fashioned Dictaphone except you no longer need a typist to type what you want to say) I hope Shari found her “stuff”. I lost some of my photos a few weeks ago in the process of transferring them from camera to computer, and that was a disappointment. By the way, I love your photos! I’m impressed!!

  5. L.S. Taylor says:

    I use Dropbox. I save all the important stuff there. When I work offline I make sure to And I take my laptop with me everwhere. Occasionally I’ll save backup copies to whatever hard drive I’m using at the moment.

    I haven’t checked in for a few weeks, but I’m still chortling along with revisions. Doing okay. Slowly but surely.

  6. Carol says:

    Good morning to each of you (altho’ I guess it isn’t still morning where most of you are). Thanks for adding your thoughts here and sharing your backup methods. Disks corrupt, drives die, apps fail, paper burns or becomes unreadable when wet — no one method is foolproof, although having a paper copy in hand feels good, and as Mary Helen points out, getting the words back into the computer isn’t as difficult as it used to be. I think having multiple backups such as Judith has, is probably the safest. Just how many is the question. 😉

  7. Shari Green says:

    That comment on Rachelle’s post sounds very much like what I believe happened in my case — “the whole system went back to an earlier time”. After saving additions to the file almost every day for a month, all of a sudden I had only that May 7 version, both on my computer and on Dropbox. It was very strange. I suspect my computer is to blame, as it’s been an odd, glitchy, lemon of a computer from day one. Alas.

    With apologies to trees everywhere, I must say paper copies have quite an appeal right now. 😉

  8. Katt says:

    Good morning Carol. Just wanted to share I use Carbonite, and have for several years. I lost part of a manuscript one day during an electrical storm. Right in the middle of……..thunder clapped and lightening stuck very close to our house. We live in Florida, the lightning capitol of the world, so now I feel pretty safe. The most I’ve ever lost is one or two words! I love Carbonite!
    Blessings to you my friend,

  9. I use dropbox and a back up hard drive. I have two computers that I use back and forth, both Macs. So if one crashes, hopefully Scrivener will survive on the other one. But thanks for making us rethink this.

  10. Darlene says:

    I have a friend who emails her work to another friend for safe keeping. I think one should save it in two or three places to be safe..It is always a worry. I still print out stuff too so I have hard copy – just in case.

  11. Craig Ebbing says:

    Data backup online is not too hard. My computer documents are all encrypted at Their cloud is the fastest and also free.

  12. I went to and saw nothing about on-line backup. It appeared to be a blog covering various subjects. Help?

    • Carol says:

      Sorry, but I don’t know anything about “” so wouldn’t be recommending it. I “rescued” the above comment from my spam folder, and perhaps it should have stayed there. If you’re looking for an online backup there’s a link in the post to info about iCloud that might interest you.

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