Authors back up your manuscript every day, it’s not difficult

19 December 2022

Desk with laptop, image by malcevsasha

Image courtesy of malcevsasha.

The story about British writer Ann Cleeves losing her laptop, and, in the process, potentially the manuscript of the novel she was currently writing, is enough to give anyone who’s ever written a book nightmares for weeks. Some people devote years to developing their manuscript. Imagine if it were lost — irretrievably — in the blink of an eye?

While Cleeves was reunited with her laptop, it had been run over by a car, and buried under snow for a day or two, in Lerwick, a town in Scotland’s Shetland archipelago.

Cleeves was unsure whether any data could be retrieved from the device, but was thankful she’d emailed herself a copy of the document shortly before misplacing the laptop. “Not too much will be lost,” said Cleeves. Let’s hope so. Let’s also hope Cleeves has a clear memory of what work had not been copied. Losing even a couple of paragraphs could be devastating, especially if an author’s power of recall is not the best. The best part of the story may be lost forever.

But this sort of thing should not happen anymore. Authors no longer handwrite, or use typewriters, to write book drafts. They no longer depend on keeping a handwritten backup of their work. Nor do they need to use carbon-copying, or photocopying to create duplicates. At least they shouldn’t.

Who can forget the scene from Richard Curtis’ 2003 film Love Actually, when pages of the manuscript Jamie Bennett, portrayed by Colin Firth, is working on, blow into a nearby pond?

Why the hell wasn’t Bennett keeping any copies — whatsoever — of his work? More the point, why the hell was Bennett even using a typewriter? Because he sought to be charmingly technophobic? That’s not endearing, that’s foolhardy. Laptops were hardly uncommon in 2003, and were surely a more sensible option for a writer who seemed to be moving about, as Bennett was.

He’d have easily been able to keep a copy of the work-in-progress on a laptop’s hard drive (HD). And for extra peace of mind, he could have transferred copies to a thumb drive or two. Thumb drives had been around for a couple of years by that stage. But you don’t need me to tell you that.

Of course it could be argued Bennett had other things on his mind at the time we saw him. A recent relationship breakdown. Emerging feelings for the woman, Aurélia, who was looking after his villa in France. Not to mention the part the manuscript blowing into the pond played in the fledgling romance between Jamie and Aurélia. But rom-com movies aside, word processors, and other writing apps, make backing up documents as valuable as a manuscript easy.

No writer should find themselves in the situation either Cleeves or Bennett did. Because there are plenty of simple, secure backup options. Dropbox and OneDrive, for example, are among numerous cloud storage services. If you prefer to keep your work within the four walls of your home, setting up a separate backup folder on your HD isn’t difficult. Regularly copying that backup folder, and its contents, to a couple of thumb drives, which you keep somewhere safe, is an additional safeguard.

And although not the most secure, there’s the aforementioned method of emailing yourself copy of the manuscript file. It’s better than nothing. Preferably that’s a password protected document, and your email account is with a reputable web/cloud based provider.

Leaving a single copy of your manuscript on your computer HD is leaving all your eggs in one basket. Sadly though, I suspect there are plenty of writers who still do not understand this. But failing to back up work isn’t down to a lack of backup options, it’s more down to a lack of routine. For many authors, making copies of their work files may not be a part their work routine. If that’s you, change that conduct today. Make it the last thing you do at the end of each writing day.

Add “backup work files” to your daily to-do list now.