You need more backup than hitting “save” every few minutes. You need a system that saves you from hours of redoing work because of a corrupted file or stolen computer. A thumb drive copy of working files is the absolute minimum you should have. Keep that backup in a separate and secure location, too.
The Backup Selections
The simplest solution is to back up everything, always. An archive of finished projects is the most old-school backup method (if permitted by your contract), but best practice is to back up all files on the schedule given here. This includes your business files (e.g., bookkeeping and marketing materials), and your email, calendar, contacts, and blog or website. Even back up your trash bin.
LFMF: I once wrote and deleted a whole chapter in a day. I couldn’t recover it when I reconsidered, because I did it between backups and I wasn’t backing up my trash bin. If your software isn’t a subscription, also back up your programs or applications folder. The wisest editors manually back up their macros too, as retrieving them from a backup file is a pain in the neck.
The Backup Schedule
Backup early and often, per this schedule of increasing intervals:
- 1 backup per hour for the last 24 hours
- 1 per day for 30 days
- 1 per week for the last year
- 1 per month older than one year
Destroy the oldest backup file when you’re out of storage space.
PRO TIP: Automated backup software (either built into your computer’s operating system or that comes with the backup drive you buy) uses a backup schedule something like this. The backup software also makes digging through backups easy.
Dispose of old backups with the same security measures you use for the backups that you keep. You have to be sure personal and proprietary information can’t be read by someone else.
The Backup Plan
Some editors save a backup file as they finish each chapter, giving it a new name. Others save a renamed file only at the end of each workday. Adding a descriptor such as “edited to Chapter 19” or “WIP” (for “work in progress”) helps keep these versions sorted. The cost of backup systems is now quite far below your hourly editing rate, so automating this process is highly cost effective as well as efficient and reliable. Many computers and external hard drives come with backup software built in, such as Apple’s Time Machine or Carbonite for Windows-based computers. Backup software can also work with offsite systems (including “the cloud”) rather than your own on-desk hard drive (e.g., Dropbox). Just be aware that anyone with access to a shared file might inadvertently delete that file from their (and everyone’s) system. That said, hard drives can also fail. Solid-state systems (such as SSD) appear to be more stable than the old technology of spinning disks. You can add space to a cloud backup system as you need it.
Whereas we used to keep every backup on a separate floppy disk, now they’re all on a single drive, making them vulnerable to a single failure; so consider having two drives that you swap every day or every week, depending on your risk tolerance.
There is no “cloud”—it’s just a hard drive in someone else’s building. Before storing backups in the cloud, consider restrictions stipulated in your work contract: The client may not allow you to store files offsite. They may prohibit foreign storage (common in government contracts), so find out where that cloud server is. They may also have security requirements such as physical locks, firewalls, encryption, and passwords. Though one advantage is that cloud services often have better system security than any one editor could afford.
LFMF: Ask if the location where the cloud server is based often loses power, such as on a storm-prone coast. Do they have emergency power, and backups of their own system?
If you keep backups in your own office, they are as vulnerable to theft and fire or water damage as your main computer is. A safety deposit box is physically secure offsite storage; even someone else’s office may be. At least put backups in a different part of your building, maybe in a fireproof safe. An old freezer can resist a lot of heat and water; that makes it a useful option for storing several hard drives or even laptops when you go away—just don’t plug it in.
The Insurance Plan
If your data is critical, follow the 3-2-1 rule: keep three copies of all data—two locally, on different media, and one copy offsite.
Quality check the backup system often. Verify its CIA: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Is it protected? Is it working as planned? Are files undamaged? Can you get a file when needed? Is there more than one way to get at files? The nightmare these checks avoid is finding out the system hasn’t been working, just when you need it most.
PRO TIP: Use antivirus software and clean the system often. The last thing you want is to reactivate a virus when you access an archived file.