Last Week, Chella discussed how some authors have an (unfounded) fear of having their work stolen by unscrupulous writers, agents or publishers. While the chance of this happening is remote, these fears stem from a deep and understandable source.
Our writing – whether it be poetry, a short story or a full novel – is in many ways our child. From the seed of conception to bringing it into the world as a complete and ‘living’ entity, we are its parent. It depends on us for life. We spend hours nurturing and developing it to maturity. We invest wholeheartedly in its growth and accomplishments. Without our deep, selfless committment, it would not exist. No wonder we want to protect it.
Our fear, irrational or not, of someone taking it from us should we let it out into the world is not that surprising.
More surprising is how little we protect it while it’s in our care. Yes. As a species, we authors are really bad parents. Until we learn the hard way, we trust our memories and the ways we keep our work safe way too much.
We all write on word processors. Where would we be without them, after all? Clunking away on a manual with fading typing ribbon and threadbare carbon paper? Thank God those days have now departed. But what if that thing we rarely think about, but which is so essential, should suddenly die – the computer hard drive? What if we lose the CD or flash drive we saved our work onto? What if, after hours of work, we get an unexpected power outage and suddenly realise we haven’t saved our document since opening it? What if the computer shuts down because Windows has updated and needs to restart? What if it crashes? What if, heinous of all parental crimes, we accidentally save something else over our work? Or erase it.
Lots can go wrong, and not all of it is our own fault.
Well, actually… Perhaps it is. Protecting our child is our responsibility. Are we being a good parent by getting so lost in our writing that we forget to take a second to click the ‘save’ icon now and again? Are we being conscientious by not backing up our files? Shouldn’t we make sure the autosave feature is active so that, should the worst happen, the most we’ve lost is ten minutes’ work? If you’re working on linked machines, you can come to a work in progress on a different machine and start typing, only to realise you’d forgotten to let it sync and you’ve lost everything you did on the other machine.
And maybe even that isn’t enough. Although no one is wishing it on anyone, it’s possible for laptops to get dropped, stolen or melted in a fire. Flash drives can become corrupted. Computers can frizzle. Believe me, it happens. Hopefully not to you, but that’s more about luck than design.
Not too long ago I started work on a blog post, ran out of time and saved it, then came back and spent another hour or more finishing it, then saved it as the original, thus losing the latest version. It won’t shock you to learn I felt heartily sick. I’ve had my hard drive fail. No warning, I just started the machine one day and all I got was the blue screen of death. And the 90,000 words I had written of the novel I was working on? That was gone.
There are viruses, worms and trojans out there looking for unprotected computers to infect.
What’s the answer?
Much of the time, it comes down to one thing. Save, save, save! But there are further steps you can take to safeguard your precious baby. Several anti-virus packages now offer a backup facility, whereby your hard drive (or at least your documents) are automatically saved to a remote system. Similarly, there are ‘cloud’ type accounts that will store documents for you in cyberspace. These ensure that, even if your own system gets horribly mangled during a zombie apocalypse or something equally dire, your files will be safe. Google Docs, Evernote and Dropbox are examples of these online document management systems. The other obvious step is to make sure you back up your system regularly on an external hard drive that’s kept separate from the main machine (in case of a fire).
With free antivirus programmes like AVG available, there’s absolutely no reason why your baby shouldn’t get its innoculations and regular boosters. So the antivirus update slows your computer down when it’s running? Better that than losing your work to a virus, right?
It all sounds boring and technical and not what writing is about. But, trust me, if your system comes unstuck, you’ll be glad you did.
Protect your babies. You’re the one it matters to, and they’re relying on you to keep them saved.