How many times have you heard you need to back up your novel?
Other than running out of ideas or publishing a book that no one reads, every writer’s worst nightmare is losing their work. It’s the kind of fear that jolts you awake at night and has you running to your office to triple-check that it was just a scary dream—but it’s a scary dream worth taking seriously.
Here’s my advice: back up your novel. It’s essential. Let’s dive into why backups require your focused consideration.
Today, we enjoy a lot more prose security than the greats that came before. We don’t have to worry about losing the sole hard copy of our manuscript over a glass of split water or having it tossed into a fire by our jealous little sister, as Amy did to Jo in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
As convenient as the digital age is, it doesn’t mean we should put all of our faith in the autosave features of our favorite word processors.
Technology can still fail—especially when you haven’t set up the necessary security measures to protect yourself from physical and digital disasters.
So, if you want to sleep a little easier at night (and avoid a major meltdown in the morning), I recommend implementing multiple layers of backups for your manuscript. Below are nine of the most effective ways to keep your novel safe and sound. [Note: this article includes no affiliate links; just methods and products I’ve tried, recommend, and think will help.]
#1: Make Saving Your Work a Habit
As handy as they are, autosave features are not the end-all-be-all. Some depend entirely on Wi-Fi and strong Wi-Fi at that. A simple internet hiccup could completely erase your latest chapter or round of developmental edits.
So get in the habit of pressing “save” every time you reach a natural break in your writing flow. You can even use keyboard shortcuts like Ctrl + S (for Windows) or Command + S (for Mac) to make it easier. It may seem tedious, but it’s worth it when your Wi-Fi inevitably crashes during a crucial writing session.
#2: Put Copies on an External Hard Drive
Both PCs and Macs come with built-in backup software that lets you designate an external drive as a backup destination. An external hard drive or USB flash drive is the quickest and easiest way to run local backups of your entire system, including your manuscript.
Set a reminder in your calendar to back up your work every week or month, depending on how often you write. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that all your hard work is safely stored on a separate device—just make sure to keep that external drive in a safe place away from potential physical damage.
#3: Use the Cloud Drives
In addition to an external hard drive, it’s a good idea to back up your novel in the cloud as well. Cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, and iCloud offer secure and convenient ways to store your work online.
Not only does this provide an extra layer of protection against physical disasters, but it also allows you to access your work from any device with an internet connection. This is great for when you start working with editors or beta readers and need to easily share your manuscript.
#4: Repurpose an Existing App
If you use a note-taking program such as Notion or Evernote for ideas, story development, or WIP tracking, consider reasearching their document-handling capabilities as an alternative way to back up your novel. I’ve used both Notion and Evernote.
I tried setting up Notion for organizing . . . well, everything. I quickly got bogged down in the database setup process and became overwhelmed; I eventually abandoned it. I returned to the program after a writer friend showed me how to narrow my focus to using “Pages” and not worry about the more complex databases and trackers.
That advice made all the difference. I now have a simple WIP section in Notion for each project with related ideas, character profiles, locations, and completed scenes. I use Notion’s free version. It’s an easy way to leverage the cloud for a little extra peace of mind.
Evernote allows attaching files, PDFs, and snapshots, but I found the storage capacity and pricing options less optimal. However, if you already use Evernote, consider this option.
#5: Invest in a Cloud Backup Solution
For added peace of mind, consider investing in a cloud solution that will keep your entire computer backed up in the event of a hard drive crash. This is especially useful if you have limited storage capacity and not enough space for all those drafts and revisions. Even if your computer is damaged or stolen, you can still access all of your important files—including your novel.
Services like Carbonite and Backblaze are good options to consider, but do your research to find the best fit for your needs and budget. Most will run anywhere from $5 a month to $60 a year, and some offer continuous backups so you can set it and forget it.
#6: Save it to Another Computer
If you own multiple laptops or have a laptop and desktop computer at home, take advantage of the built-in network-sharing capabilities to save your novel on two different devices. You can also use a USB flash drive to transfer files between computers, but make sure you have a good version naming system and regularly update both versions so they stay in sync.
#7: Email it to Yourself
Another simple way to back up your manuscript is by emailing it to yourself. Create a dedicated email folder for all your writing-related emails, and send a copy of your novel to yourself every time you make significant progress.
Not only does this provide an extra layer of backup, but it also serves as a timestamp for when you made changes to your manuscript. This can be useful for keeping track of revisions with editors.
#8: Print it Out
It may seem archaic, but printing out a physical copy of your manuscript is never a bad idea. You don’t need to do this as regularly as your other backups, but having a hard copy for your first draft and important revisions adds an extra layer of protection against any technological disasters. Plus, it’s satisfying to see all of your hard work on paper.
#9: Give a (Trusted) Person a Copy
Safekeeping your precious manuscript doesn’t have to be a solo job. If you want to ensure maximum protection, enlist a trusted confidant to keep a copy, too. Friends and family members—so long as they fully understand the importance of keeping your work safe and confidential—can be excellent backup options, as well as a book coach you’re working with.
There you have it. Nine ways to back up your novel. Set up two or perhaps three the give yourself one less thing to worry about in your writerly world.
At PDHines, we offer a variety of book coaching and editing services for authors who want to whip their work into the best possible shape before publishing. No matter what genre you’re in or where you are in your journey, we’ll partner with you to make your dream of being a published author a reality.