Never Lose Your Work Again! Use These 4 Levels of Protection

charred computer
photo from Flickr via Creative Commons from Gino

What would happen if your computer shut down right now? Think about for a second. What would happen if it spontaneously caught on fire? How much work did you just lose? Panicking yet? How about we make sure that even in the worst-case scenario, you would lose next to nothing?


1. Your Software
Ever had a program crash on you in the middle of writing a scene? Or had your computer die before you could hit save?

Chances are, your program has an auto save feature. If you’re using Word, check the auto save options (File > Options > Save). Word lets you decide how often it will save an AutoRecovery file. I believe the default is ten minutes, which, depending on how fast you write, or how fast your laptop would die if it became unplugged, may not be often enough.

* Side Note: If, for some reason, Word doesn’t show your autosave file when you restart the program, this is where they’re kept: C: > Users > [your user name] > AppData > Roaming > Microsoft > Word (Could they make it any harder to find?). Look for the .asd files.

Early in my writing days, I had an old laptop that would die almost instantly when unplugged. Sure enough, somehow, the plug would come free just as I was finishing a scene or chapter. Bam. Gone. At that point, I had upped my auto save to every two minutes and hit ctrl + S like, every paragraph, out of paranoia. (It happened more than once).

Scrivener, because it’s made for writers, has many great features to prevent catastrophic loss. It does auto save, too. (Tools > Options > General > Saving) Not sure what the default is, but mine is set to auto save when there are two seconds of inactivity. If that’s not enough for you, Scrivener also has a backup tool. (Tools > Options > Backup) Make sure “Turn on auto backups” is on. You can set a location and the number of backups to keep. The default is two, mine is at five. Yes, I have an unfortunate Scrivener story, too, in which I wrongfully thought the Trash folder would empty into the Recycle Bin and found out the hard way, it did not.

There are lots of great programs out there. Do a bit of research on whatever you use and check your auto save and backup settings. Also, don’t forget the good old Save. I have conditioned myself to hit ctrl + S every few paragraphs or so, and at the minimum, anytime I move away from the screen/program or leave my computer. There’s nothing like going to Google for a quick bit of research and accidentally closing your program.

As much as I heart Evernote, I would only recommend writing in it on the go. The main reason is that, though it does auto save, you have no control over that (unless you do in the paid version, which I don’t have). You can set sync settings, but still. It’s too easy to lose work in a cloud-based program, if for no other reason than if you lose internet connection, you’re done.


2. Your Computer
It’s all well and good to have to have great program settings, but what happens when the program works perfectly, but something else goes wrong? Like, maybe you’re working in Scrivener and you just finished writing a 3,000 word chapter and you rename the file, get confused and move the wrong file to the trash folder, get annoyed seeing files in the trash bin and decide to empty it? What then? (I swear I only did that once, then learned my lesson. The Trash folder in Scrivener does NOT send files to the Recycle Bin, it sends them to the ether.)

You need to protect the files themselves in case something happens outside of your writing program. The easiest thing to do is keep multiple copies on your machine. The bigger the project you’re doing, like a novel, the more important this is. Files can become corrupt. Sometimes it just happens. Keep an extra one around that you update at the end of each day.

Keep another copy on your Dropbox or Google Drive. Keep a copy on a flash drive or external hard drive. Especially once your project is complete and you move onto the next thing, you don’t want to go back years later and find out that your file got corrupt in the meantime and won’t open or has turned to gibberish. (What, you don’t remember writing ““)- ‰˜æº‰° A7rµJRB¥ª hª¨€fSp/.–<)ÁR_ÞHwŸÅt¸IZ”?)

* Side Note: I wouldn’t recommend regularly working directly from these Dropbox/Google Drive files as you write. Far too many chances for your internet to cut out or for you to accidentally overwrite the wrong file when you save or move stuff. Make your backup a new file and date it so there is no confusion. Might not be a bad idea to keep a few old versions for those days you regret deleting eight chapters while in an editing stupor.

*Update: Several people have told me Dropbox has an awesome feature that lets you go back to previous versions of your file, so the whole overwriting thing may not be as big of an issue as I thought. Apparently, a bunch of you do write right from your files in Dropbox. That makes me nervous, but it might just be me. I’ve had nightmares with Dropbox/Google Drive sync issues in the past. I still would recommend saving a copy on your machine because you just never know. The Dropbox servers could crash or your account could get hacked/messed up. Unlikely, but stuff happens! The point is, don’t put all your eggs in one basket ;) There is safety in diversification of backups!


3. Your House
So far, we’re doing good. Our document will save every time we pick our fingers off the keyboard, it’ll make a backup every .4432 milliseconds, and there are about 393,402 copies of your file in various locations. So, what happens if your house catches on fire or someone steals your laptop and external hard drive?

You gotta have a backup off location. I mentioned Dropbox and Google Drive and those are great options. But, like I said, make sure you date them so you don’t overwrite by accident. The biggest problem I run into is not remembering to do it. Maybe there is some cool backup program that will automatically save your Word file to Dropbox. If there is, someone tell me about it! But if not, you have to do it yourself. I forget. And, of course, I forget then I absolutely need it.

I now use Carbonite. It’s cloud based, I can access my files from anywhere, and the best part is, it works automatically in the background so I NEVER have to remember to do anything. It does need an internet connection, obviously, and since it won’t use system resources to backup while you’re working, it can take a few minutes after you’re done working for it to sync and backup. But for me and all my 23,297,392,394 photos and other files, this is the best solution. It also makes life super easy when you get a new computer and need to move files over.

There are other services like Carbonite, but I’ve never used them, so I can’t vouch for their goodness or suckiness. Carbonite is reasonably priced at $60 for the year. If you’re interested, sign up here (You’ll even get a $20 gift car if you use this link).


4. Disaster Recovery
So, let’s say you take the proper precautions. You have all these things in place, but yet somehow, you manage, through user error or other means, to lose a file anyway. (Like you delete it out of Scrivener and—poof—bye bye 3k words!).

If all of your backups have failed (or you failed to do any of them), there is still hope! In computer land, when you delete a file, it first goes to the Recycle Bin (expect in Scrivener!), but when you empty the Recycle Bin, it seems to be gone forever. It is not, however. It’s merely inaccessible. Unless you have super ninja computer skills! (Or a document recovery program.)

There’s a very nifty and FREE program called Recuva. Get it here. What it does is seek out your deleted files and let you access them. Here’s the catch. Your files will stay in this limbo of not accessible, but recoverable only until the space it occupies is taken. If you deleted a file months ago, it’s probably gone for good.

Because of this overwrite thing, if you know you lost a file, DO NOT make a new file, move a file, download a program, or anything else that might possibly write something to your hard drive. You risk overwriting and losing it for good. I would highly, HIGHLY recommend that you immediately download Recuva or some other document recovery program BEFORE you need it. If you wait until disaster strikes, it’s pretty likely you’ll overwrite your precious file with your new software. So, go download it NOW!

In my Scrivener nightmare, when I moved my file to the trash bin, then deleted my 3000 words, I used Recuva. It did find my missing file, but it had been overwritten and was not recoverable. :( When that happens, all that’s left to do is go back to the start and hope you remember whatever brilliance you created in the first place.


One other thing. If you have a web site or blog, don’t neglect backups there, either. I had friend who used WordPress get her blog hacked, then lost everything she’d ever written there because she had no backup and couldn’t recover it. I like UpdraftPlus because it not only backups to my server regularly, it also sends a copy of my backups to my Dropbox. There are a ton of backup plugins out there, just make sure you find one you like, test it, and set it up. I also have IFTTT set to save a copy of every blog post to my Dropbox, which is my extra backup protection. Can you tell I’ve had issues in the past?

Here’s hoping you never lose a file again!

Do you have stories of nightmares or heroic recoveries? Share them!

4 thoughts on “Never Lose Your Work Again! Use These 4 Levels of Protection

  1. In my experience with both Dropbox and Google Drive (both on a Windows PC), when you save a file in those directories, you’re saving it to your local hard drive. Only afterwards does it sync to the cloud, so losing internet in the middle of a save shouldn’t be a worry. Also Dropbox (at least at some service levels) allows you to rollback changes to earlier versions of the file via the web interface. However, and this is something of a big one, it does not backup your file to the cloud until you have closed file, i.e. exited Word or whatever. Still, pretty good. It also coordinates the files between multiple computers to make it easier to split your writing time across a desktop and a laptop.

    1. A few other friends just old me about the Dropbox previous versions thing. I’ll have to update my post. I’d still be nervous, though, but that’s probably just me! You’re right, it does usually save on your hard drive first, unless it’s a shared file or something like that. That’s where I get into trouble. If it didn’t sync in time and I open the file somewhere else…

  2. This is such a timely article, Denise! Here’s a recent (as in 2 days ago) horror story involving Scrivener and Google Drive.

    Until yesterday, I (like many writers) made the mistake of keeping my *active* Scrivener projects on Google Drive. Whenever I would open Scrivener, it would pull it from my synced directory, and whenever it saves, it would save it right back to the synced directory.

    My primary laptop died a couple of weeks ago, and I had to send it in for repairs. In the meantime, I started using another laptop. Long story short, when my main laptop came back, and I loaded my software, I fired up Scrivener and found my manuscript completely missing.

    I took a deep breath and just told myself it was because Google Sync hadn’t finished pulling the directory down from Google Drive yet.

    So I closed Scrivener.

    …And a fraction of a second later I got a cold chill up my spine. We all know what Scrivener does when you close it. It saves itself…and in my case it saved the BLANK manuscript to my sync directory, which synced up to the cloud! I wanted to scream.

    Fortunately, I had taken my secondary laptop offline hours earlier. I was able to boot it up and isolate it from the network before Google Sync had a chance to download the blank manuscript over the good one.

    Close call. I’ll never use my cloud directory as the active directory again. I started using a version control system called “Subversion”. I know commit all changes to this repository and use the cloud for backup purposes.

    1. Wow, that is scary! So glad you got it back! It sounds like you didn’t have any other back up files? You probably had your Scrivener backups on your 2nd laptop, though, right? This is exactly the kind of story that makes me nervous about working right from a Dropbox or Google Drive. Maybe it was Dropbox, you would have been okay with the previous version thing. Might want to swtich! Too many close calls and utter disasters have made me cautious to the point of paranoia.

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