Saturday, May 7, 2011

SAVE THE DATA, or how not to be caught flatfooted when your story goes <FOOF!>


The last couple of days have seen a horror stories emerge on the mailing lists of writers who’s workstations have ‘eaten’ the author’s story. One had a close call, luckily having a techie as their SO who was able to coax the data back from the brink of the abyss where deleted files go. Another writer lost, well, tens of thousands of words. Gone, poof, up in smoke like scrolls in the famed Library of Alexandria.

Having worked in the IT field long before personal computers were even around, I’ve learned that if there is a way for data to disappear, be corrupted, become unusable, it will happen. Power failures, hard drive crashes, theft (I didn’t think this one would happen until someone walked off with my laptop), or Fido finding out that your flash drive tastes yummy until he gets through the crunchy outer shell then spits out the mangled remains, all lead to same result, your labor of love is toast.

You could try re-typing (commonly call ‘rekeying’) your story <was that Adam or Harry who liked being whipped; Jill or Janice that was the green skinned alien dom>, but who’s recollection of a story is perfect? I’ve put down stories that I’ve written only to pick them up a week or two later and wonder ‘where did that scene come from’?

An easier way of recovering your story, or other data, after a disaster <notice how we techies call any unplanned loss of data a ‘disaster’> is via a backed up copy of that data.

Backing up data isn’t hard. It’s merely a copy of whatever you were working on placed in a safe location. You, the user, generally accomplishes this by performing a task that copies your documents folder (I use Windows 7 and will be using their folder structure in this post, I know nothing about Mac’s but I’m sure they have similar items, if not called the same thing) to a different location on your hard drive, one that is not normally accessed by your applications.

The easiest way of doing this is to open Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer), click on the DOCUMENTS folder and COPY (not cut) the whole folder to another location on the hard drive. The downside of this is that you, the user, have to remember to do this, and secondly, if the hard disk crashes, everything could be wiped out.

So, a safer way would be to do the same thing, but to a different PHYSICAL LOCATION, such as an external hard drive, or external flash drive (commonly called a USB key or USB Drive). In case your primary hard drive fails, you have your data, safe and sound that you can restore once your computer is running again.

Now the most transparent way of making sure that your stories and other content are backed up is via one of the services promoted on the web for just that reason. I have personal experience with Dropbox and my wife uses Carbonite to ensure that our files are backed up as soon as changes are saved. The two I mentioned are not the only ones available. There’s MOXY and a slew of other services available (Google is your friend) to help you recover from that stress filled moment when you realize that the strange sound coming from your computer isn’t the cooling fan dying, it’s the sound of your hard drive shattering into ten thousand little pieces, taking your data with it.

I say that these are the most transparent to the user, because with the copy and paste or other manual backup solution, you have to remember to run it. With Dropbox, Carbonite, Moxy, and other on-line services, changes are saved “in the cloud” as soon as you’ve saved and closed the file. So, once you’ve finished typing in that three thousand word chapter, that four flames hot love scene that left YOU breathless, or your Michener-esque ten page description of your beautiful heroine running up the beach barefooted, and saved the document those changes are winging their way to the respective service’s storage somewhere on the Internet.

No matter what product you use, what method you choose of backing up your data, it won’t do you any good if you don’t use it, and use it regularly.

Now, this is not an intended to be all inclusive of  the different backup methods, products or services. This is simply a post to get you thinking about how to save your data so when (not IF) disaster strikes and your files go <FOOF!> they aren’t lost forever.