Backing up your writing

Writing may be cake, but nobody wants to bake a cake twice. That may be the dumbest analogy I’ve ever written, but I had a better one in the first draft of this post… which I lost.

I’m belaboring the intro here, but anyone who has lost some of their precious writing knows that horrible feeling of loss. Creativity comes from a mysterious place, and it isn’t easily recreated. Couple that with the fact that few people really back up their computers like they should, and heartache is only a matter of time.

For writers there is also legal value in keeping backups and versions. You want to be able to show what you created, and when. In many cases you want to be able to show multiple versions of a work, the whole creative process.

Here’s what I do:

While Writing – Auto Save

Most writing applications have this turned on by default, but don’t assume. Make sure your word processor of choice is saving your progress every few minutes. Then if your computer crashes or something else goes awry, you have a good chance of minimizing your loss.

Short Term – Changing File Names

Every time I reach a mini-milestone in my document, either a revision or a new block of content, I change the filename. I use a ‘v’ to show the version number. For example, “Story Time v1 00” would get saved as “Story Time v1 01” as a small change. When I do a whole new draft, or give it to someone to read in a major way, I update the major version and make “Story Time v2 00”.

Mid Term – Paper Copies

When I print out a copy of something for a person to read, I keep a copy in a folder for my records. Sometimes it may be the marked up, commented version, but it is a hard, physical copy of my effort. I don’t do this as much for small efforts, but for my screenplays and other big items, I want that hard copy of my progress. I also include the version number (in the file name) and date in the footer on every page.

Another thing I like about paper copies is they are less likely to get loose on the internet. PDFs are just too easy to forward.  I’ve had a joke piece I wrote years ago forwarded back to me in email as a “check this out!” with my name and all attribution removed.

Long Term – Local Backups

Every 3-4 months I take my whole writing directory and burn it to a CD/DVD.  I keep the latest version secure in case something (whimper) happens to my computer.  The paper copies are nice for historical reasons, but I’m not so keen on typing one back in from scratch.

Best Bet – Offsite Backups

Ideally you want a reliable backup somewhere other than your house. This protects against theft, fire, or who knows what else. You can either put your DVDs from the above step in a safety deposit box, or look into an automatic backup program like Jungle Disk or Mozy.  I use Jungle Disk, but have heard great things about Mozy. Both copy your files to locations on the internet, and you can encrypt them so no one else can retrieve them. This can be a bit of work to set up, but all it takes is one time for it to be entirely worthwhile.

About Jeff Moriarty

A dabbler in many arts, from Ignite Phoenix to Improv, and from Information Security to Screenwriting. Jeff loves creating new things, and tries his hand at many forms of writing from screenplays to prose. He pontificates on his personal blog, and helps authors get their works online.


  1. To paraphrase Dennis Cooper:


    Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox.

    Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox.

    Dropbox in a mirror maze.


    Which is a long-winded way of saying Dropbox ( is a great way to end up with a lot of copies of your work.

    I’m not affiliated with the company, but wanted to pass along the recommendation. Dropbox is a dead-simple way to back up your work AND track changes over time — so if you realize something you delete a week ago was actually really important, you can still get it back, and fast.

    Unfortunately, they just recently limited tracked-changes support to 30 days for free accounts, which is worth keeping in mind.

  2. Excellent advice, Jeff.

    As someone who writes for a living, I have a very similar list. The only thing I do significantly different is I do a backup once each hour with a new file name. Most of my work is in Microsoft Word, and there is a difference between doing a save and doing a save as. I append the date and time to the end of the file name. These are interim saves that I delete after I deliver a project.

    I also several named versions I save. The version of the file I send to the editor gets FOR EDITOR, the version where I incorporating the editor’s comments gets EDITED, the version where I do a final layout review gets FINAL. These stay with the project archive forever.

    In addition to a daily backup to an external hard drive, I also update all of my current project folders to an online backup. Redundant, perhaps even anal of me, but I only get paid for what I deliver, and I don’t want small technology glitches to keep me from being paid for hours of effort.

    Hopefully, after reading your post, anyone who doesn’t do a backup will start doing one. No matter how simple, any backup is better than none.

  3. @Dylan – Good call on Dropbox. I use them for local file moving, but not for general backup. The thing I like about JungleDisk is the automated regular storage and file moving.

    @Charlene – Great tips! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Another “free” way to keep files off site is to get a gmail account and mail your files to yourself. Maybe one day Google will actually let out the Gdrive thing they keep talking about. That would be easier.