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Friday, April 17, 2015

Back It Up

Image courtesy of Jeff777BC

This past month, with a manuscript deadline hanging over my head, I experienced one of a writer's worse nightmares. My trusty five year-old computer stopped being trustworthy. 

***It crashed.   ***It froze.   ****More often than not, in order to turn it off so I could restart, I had to press the button to force the "hard" shut down. 

I made two decisions:  
  • First, I started backing up all my files before I completely lost the computer. 
  •  Second, I bought a new computer. 
 I have always been one to back up my computer files. That is the good news. The bad news is that I have a tendency to regularly back up only my working files. After all, those family photos and images I've downloaded from the internet tend to be big files that take a long time to copy and paste to a back-up drive. I don't get to those as often. Then there are the email addresses and the favorites/bookmarks I want to save......

However, with the prospect of the permanent death of my computer staring me in the face, I knew there were a lot of files other than my working files I needed to get backed-up while I still could.

Back-up Considerations
How a person backs up their files is a personal choice. The considerations try to keep in mind are these:
  • the ease of use, therefore, the greater likelihood that I take the time to make back-ups
  • the durability of the back-up media
  • the number of years I will be able to access the back-up media
  • cost
Like Jennie in my novel, Family Secrets, once I developed an interest in family history, I gathered only so much information before I realized the importance of setting up a filing system. The same held true for my digital files on my computer. And, if I didn't want to lose all my hard work, I needed to back it up.

In the early years I backed my files up on 5.25 inch floppies. Then my Windows 95 computer died. Not only did my computer that replaced it not have a 5.25 inch drive, which required me to purchase an external drive, the later version of Windows I purchased did not let me access the old MS-DOS files.

Then for years I backed everything up on 3.5 inch floppies (they were in a hard plastic case, but everyone I knew still called them floppies.) Imagine my surprise when several years later after a couple of computer deaths and a mother board failure, I realized that among the three current computers in my household, only one had a 3.5 inch drive. Everything had gone to CDs by then, and they were no longer selling computers with the floppy drives. So, using that old laptop that, fortunately, also had both a CD drive and two USB ports, I was able to back up everything I wanted to save on the most current media.

At first I heard that CDs are indestructible. If that claim sounds too good to be true, that is because it was. Later claims warned that CDs have about a ten year life. After ten years, it is wise to copy the contents of the CD onto a new CD or another form of media.

Now, many computers have DVD drives that won't work well with CDs. And, what happens when the CD/DVD drives on computers go the way of the 5.25 inch and 3.5 inch floppy drives? I have already chosen one of my daughters and one of my granddaughters to be the family historians after I pass. One of the most important duties to which I have tasked them is to keep our family digital photos and records backed up on the most current media.

Decide on your best back-up options--the ones that will work for you. Right now, I rely more on flash drives (thumb drives, USB drives) and external hard drives. Because I can fill up even the largest flash drive with only a portion of my images, I mostly use two external hard drives. I alternate them and make a point every couple of months to not only back up my working computer files on them, but I also back them up with each other. That way, my data is saved in two places .

Consider the Cloud -- Carefully

Several years ago I started using Dropbox. They offered a small amount of storage space free of charge with the hope that I would pay their fee for more storage space on the "cloud." I loved the ease of transferring files from one computer to another using this program. Also, I could invite others to share individual file folders which made it a lot easier for me to transfer large data files to family and friends rather than using email. The more family and friends I convinced to sign up for Dropbox, the more storage they granted me. 

However, what a free service gives, a free service can take away. I heard the rumor that Dropbox had dropped several files for many of its users. In a panic, I checked my account. Yes, some file folders were gone, but I had them backed up in other places. Fortunately, the files with the family history documents and photos I share with my cousins were still there. I immediately made sure everything the others had contributed were also saved to my hard drive and my back-up drives. I have since decided that until I am ready to PAY for a cloud storage service, I am better off not relying on one.

It took me about two weeks, but I got my back-up media organized (well, fairly organized), my new computer set up, and the files I need now transferred to my new computer's hard drive. I'm back to writing and still chasing that deadline. And, I am making an effort to be more diligent about backing up EVERYTHING in a timely manner.

Robyn Echols writes using the pen name, Zina Abbott. Her novel, Family Secrets, has been published by Fire Star Press and is now available on Amazon HERE and on Barnes & Nobel for Nook HERE

Also available from Prairie Rose Publications:

Big Meadows Valentine, on Amazon Kindle HERE and on Nook HERE . The second novella in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, A Resurrected Heart, is available on Amazon Kindle HERE and on Nook HERE.



  1. And make sure you keep one set of backed up files somewhere other than your home. We had hundreds of floppy disks, both kinds, various thumb drives and I only had one in my pocket when our home burned to the ground. My husband had two of the thumb drives in his computer. He grabbed the dog but didn't think to grab the thumb drives when the wild fire hit our place. Good choice, but we lost pretty much everything that wasn't on my one little usb drive. He had a novel due and had to rewrite over half of it and finish up the other half while we were trying to find a place to live. Great post to remind us all backup, backup, backup.

    1. Yes, Livia, I forgot that most important point. I try to keep one of those exterior hard drives in our fireproof safe -- when I don't get lazy.

  2. I'm always afraid to talk about stuff like this for fear of tempting fate, but... All of this is great info and a wonderful reminder. Thank you, Robyn! :-)

    1. I know what you mean. However, when the time comes the computer starts to act up and you know you are either looking at a reformat and restore or buying a new computer, it is time to stop worrying about tempting fate and get those files backed up! Unfortunately, I still can't find the pictures I took of the mountains last fall, so I have to hope that old computer will start one more time and that those pictures are still there.....

  3. Great blog. It's too easy to forget that it only takes a second to lose all of our information.