For Writers: How to Get Automatic Free Redundant File Backup

Today, I was clearing out some old Scrivener backup files and wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have been. Somehow, deleting one of the backup archives broke my current Scrivener project and dumped me back to where I was on my WIP two months ago, effectively losing 5 full chapters (and a ton of edits) of my work.

Needless to say, there was a moment of panic on my part.  Then I took a deep breath and remembered that I use redundant backup solutions, so the information was still out there in the cloud, I just had to go find it.

Obviously this is entirely my own fault, but the whole experience got me thinking about other writers, and the possibility that they may not know easy and free ways to setup redundant automatic backup of their files.

I’ve decided to split this post into two posts.  In this post, I am going to generally explain what I use and how it benefits me.  In a future post (I would say tomorrow, but I’m not making any promises) I’ll give a step-by-step guide on how to set this stuff up.  Most people will probably be able to set it all up without the guide.

First, lets talk about some assumptions about backup and what you want.  First, file backup should be automatic.  If you have to manually backup your files, you will inevitably forget, and at the very least will not backup your files as often as an automatic backup solution.  This means that when you have a catastrophe and need the backup, you are going to have an older one, and you can get a lot done even in just a couple of hours that you don’t want to lose (especially if you get into a story and really let the words flow!).

Also, your backup should be off-site.  External hard drives are pretty cool for mobility purposes, but in general hard drives are prone to crashing, and external hard drives are more likely to crash than internal ones (based on personal experience).  Also, if the event that triggers the need for your backup is a house fire, flood, terrible roommate or anything else that destroys your home, your external drive will likely be destroyed or damaged as well, making the effort you put into backing up entirely wasted.  On a side note, if mobility is your goal, I strongly suggest you buy a flash drive.  Because they have no moving parts (they are what we call a Solid State Drive), they are not as easy to break or as likely to have damaged data, though I will agree they are a lot easier to lose.

I use three different backup solutions, two of which are free and one that is not.  The paid service I use is called Carbonite, which is $59 a year and backups your entire computer automatically and unintrusively at all times.  This means that it protects not only all of your writing, but all of your photos, videos, other documents, etc. as well.  I’ve been using it for years and highly recommend it.  As this is not a free service, that’s all I’m going to say about Carbonite.

Now, to the good stuff.  I use Scrivener to do my writing, which is a great program (also not free), but creates a TON of files you need to backup.  In fact, it creates an entire folder on your computer (with other folders inside of that one, like Inception, but without the completely stupid ending), and every file in it is important to your manuscript.  To backup, I use Google Drive and Dropbox, both of which offer programs that create directories on my computer that are automatically backed up.

When I created my Scrivener project file, I saved it in the Google Drive folder on my computer.  Every time I hit save (and actually more often than that because I enabled autosave on Scivener, so it saves every time I stop typing for more than 3 seconds), Google Drive immediately takes the new data and uploads it to my Google Drive server, which makes the files accessible anywhere and also gives me redundant backup as Drive saves all your files on multiple servers in case one of them fails (Google is extremely secretive about how they backup your files, but suffice to say, they’re safe).

In most cases, this system alone would be enough, unless like me you do something stupid and delete the backup in order to save space, despite the fact that you didn’t have any shortage of space.  Yeah, I know, dumb.

So, in order to protect against user error, stupidity, and Google as a whole crashing simultaneous to your laptop crashing (also known as the digital apocalypse), I use Scrivener’s auto-backup feature to backup to the directory on my computer that is synced with Dropbox (I tried for a long time to have the Google Drive directory just be the same as the Dropbox directory, but like two fat kids with just one candy bar that isn’t a Twix, the two just don’t play well together).

Once these things are setup (which is easy and free), everything I write is backed up to Google Drive every 3 seconds and whenever I hit the save button (which I do all the time because I’m a paranoid lunatic) it is compressed and backed up on Dropbox.

I don’t have much experience with other writing programs (except Microsoft Word, which we all know isn’t the ideal writing option for a novel), but I imagine that most of them have a backup option to be used.

Stay tuned for the step-by-step (with screenshots) for how to set this all up in a day or two.  Till then, keep writing!